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Physician assistant students Justin Schulte, left, and Mason Ray provided medical services for the homeless at the United Way Point in Time Homeless Count.

Students from Wichita State provide services to the homeless

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Many prospective college students are put off by the notion of an “ivory tower” academic experience, but Wichita State University’s focus on community involvement and experienced-based learning makes it stand out from other institutions.

More than 80 students from WSU’s School of Social Work and College of Health Professions got firsthand experience with that difference as participants in the annual homeless count Jan. 30.

In conjunction with Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita, the team of Shockers gathered at Century II for the United Way Point in Time Homeless Count, which has been serving the homeless since 2004.

In collaboration with University of Kansas medical students, Guadalupe Clinic and the Lions Club, the Wichita State group of students and faculty provided comprehensive health services and screenings for the county’s homeless population.

Vulnerability index

The cross-disciplinary team of Shockers also worked to complete a vulnerability index to help identify the needs of the homeless. A vulnerability index is a survey and analysis method that is used to identify and prioritize individuals for housing according to the fragility of their health.

This ranking, along with a registry of the names of unsheltered homeless individuals, will allow the community to prioritize permanent housing and other services based on the duration of homelessness and mortality risk factors.

This was the first year the vulnerability index interview was included with other services at the event. Wichita is one of only three communities in the United States piloting the survey program, and when United Way of the Plains decided to initiate it locally, they turned to Wichita State’s Natalie Grant and Shaunna Millar, from the Department of Social Work, and Pat Bunton and Jolynn Dowling from the College of Health Professions.

“When the United Way brought (us) together to discuss including the vulnerability index as part of the services,” said School of Nursing Instructor Jolynn Dowling, “we felt it would be a wonderful opportunity to collaborate cross-college to implement the index.”

As an additional project, WSU students involved in creating the index also worked to create a video project called “Homeless Voices.” The students collected 20 video narratives from homeless people at the event who talked about their lives and the community. The work will be used to apply to homeless conferences and share the stories of the homeless population.

Working with professionals and students from other disciplines gave the participants valuable practical experience.

“My perspective of the homeless individual was completely changed by this activity” said Hayley Schuessler, a senior nursing student in WSU’s traditional BSN program. “Before the event, I felt almost fearful of homeless people and could not see things from their perspective. During the activity I was able to speak with the homeless and realized they are no different from myself and have just fallen into unfortunate circumstances. My interest in public health has been greatly increased.”

Accelerated BSN students from Wichita State’s School of Nursing have been involved providing services for the homeless count for two years, and traditional BSN students joined them last year.

The project is part of the College of Health Professions’ advocacy of “interprofessional education” which, evidence suggests, leads to improved patient outcomes.

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Created on Tuesday, April 08, 2014; Last modified on Thursday, April 24, 2014