The smiles and gentle laughter are shared easily between NDSU freshman Haley Hodenfield and Helen Steffen, a 96-year-old resident at Bethany Retirement Living in Fargo. Whether it's playing cards, walking laps or having a quiet conversation, they genuinely enjoy each other's company.
That heartfelt connection is the result of a new service-learning course offered through the Department of Allied Sciences' Special Topics: Compassion in Patient Care course. The 16 students in the class have been paired with Bethany residents, and they spend a total of 12 hours together during the eight-week course.
"I am able to brighten another person's day just by doing some simple activities. That brightens my day as well," said Hodenfield, who is majoring in radiologic sciences and grew up in Ray, North Dakota. "Helen always has many stories to tell me that happened during the days I wasn't visiting her, and she loves having someone to walk with her. The visits give me a head start on learning what patient care truly is, which is important in my future career."
The focus of the course is to demonstrate how compassion and empathy have a positive impact on patient care, according to instructor Angeline Walswick.
"Students can see both the challenges and rewards of working with people in a caring role. They develop interpersonal skills, apply class concepts and make a new friend," Walswick said. "The coursework and the service experience should help students determine if health care is the right fit for their career path."
During their time together, the students and their residents participate in a wide range of activities, from playing piano together to using computers, playing Bingo to organizing the residents' rooms. And there are always stories about a bygone time.
"I’d say this is a winning experience for everyone involved," said Jessica Hanson, director of community life at Bethany Retirement Living. "The generation gap seems to be growing, but with opportunities like this, that gap is bridged. The residents love the interaction, and I know students really look forward to getting away from the stress of college – they can relax with our residents and gain valuable history lessons that one can’t learn in a textbook."
Senior Nicholas Lupo, a zoology major from Dickinson, North Dakota, even sampled lutefisk at the urging of his resident, a 90-year-old woman named Evelyn.
"Despite the foul smell, Evelyn encouraged me to try it for the first time. Afterwards, I realized that getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things can only benefit me," said Lupo, who plans a career in dentistry.
"This experience gives me the motivation to be relatable with my future patients in ways that allow them to trust me so that I can deliver compassionate care," Lupo said. "Evelyn is not my patient, she is my friend."
In addition to the focus on compassion, the course emphasizes dependability, respect for others, professionalism and empathy.
"Preparing compassionate professionals is central to the mission of the NDSU Department of Allied Sciences," Walswick explained. "This course and the experience at Bethany allow students to start to develop important values that they will build on throughout their academic career."
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