New partnership provides big opportunities for nursing students and health center

New partnership provides big opportunities for nursing students and health center

Some Grand Valley State University nursing students are getting a unique experience this summer on Beaver Island.

But it's also creating big opportunities for the health center there.

Mary Robinson, the Northern Coordinator for Nursing Programs at GVSU says the partnership was formed as part of a new initiative to give students the ability to learn about the challenges in rural healthcare, while also providing such rural health centers with helping hands.

"Challenges to transportation, challenges to access to care, hot to promote healthcare in those types of challenges," said Robinson.

Beaver Island sits 32 miles away from the nearest Michigan mainland.

Around 600 full-time residents live there, but in the summer months that number rises to several thousand.

If anyone ever has a health concern, they go to the Beaver Island Rural Health Center.

The center has just four full-time employees which consist of two nurse practitioners, a managing director, and a receptionist.

"The biggest problem that a remote place like Beaver Island has in terms of healthcare is attracting medically qualified people to come here and practice their art of medicine," said Don Spencer, Vice President of the Health Center's Board of Directors.

Susan Solle and Carolyn Space are the two nurse practitioners on the island. Solle has been with the health center for almost 14 years, while Space just started in her position a little over a year ago.

The two are available 24/7, 365 days a week, and work together to provide the Beaver Island community with the best possible healthcare they can give.

"It's very challenging at times," said Solle. "It's very rewarding."

"I find that it is a different type of environment almost every single day," said Space.

In addition, several specialists make their way to the island to provide everything from physical therapy and mental health, to optometry. The physicians visits to the island vary from once every couple of weeks, to just a couple of times a year.

Solle and Space agree their workload can become very large at times.

"We have physicians that we can talk to but sometimes you have to act before you have a minute to actually make a phone call," said Solle.

But thanks to the new partnership with GVSU, the health center has had an extra set of helping hands this summer.

Megan Madole has been living on the island for about two weeks. She's the first of three nursing students to work at the health center and gain clinical hours.

"I really had absolutely no idea what it was going to be like here on the island," laughed Madole.

Unlike the clinics she's worked in in more urban areas, Madole says you have to fill a lot of different shoes here.

"The nurse practitioner is the phlebotomist, they room the patient, they get the vitals, they treat the patient, they do preventative medicine, they do urgent care medicine, they take x-rays even," Madole said. "So it has just been a whirlwind of different experiences that I've gotten here."

One of the biggest challenges the health center on Beaver Island faces, is transporting patients off of the island. The health center works with three different air sources to do so, all of which are weather dependent.

"If those three transportation modes cannot get to the island we can call the coast guard," said Donna Kubic, Managing Director of the health center. "And again there's been times where the coast guard can't get here either."

Madole says she's learned to use the resources they have at the health center to do everything they possibly can for patients before making the call to send them out.

"It's a lot different in rural medicine out here on the island," said Madole.

"I think that the opportunities that we are afforded here for independent autonomous care is fabulous for a nurse practitioner," said Space.

The new partnership has met GVSU's goals and they hope to expand the program in the future.

"It's helping them dig deeper and answer questions and think about, well we can prescribe this treatment but if the patient can't truly get to that treatment, how effective are we," said Robinson. "So it helps them to see what do we need to do to get the person as well as they're going to be."

The staff say they're grateful for the extra help too.

"Megan has been great," said Solle. "She pitches in, she's knowledgeable, she's not afraid to do something new or different. She would make a really good rural nurse."

"I think the process of sending students here opens their eyes, opens the community's eyes to the unique challenges of a rural healthcare facility," said Space.

It's also opened up new opportunities for healthcare on the island.

"Having the circulation from Grand Valley Nursing College that are interested in remote service, could be our ticket for future replacements," said Spencer.

Spencer says the last nurse practitioner who retired took just over a year to replace.

"Students will come here, they may fall in love with Beaver Island like a lot of us have and when we have an opening, it may be a whole lot easier for us to fill it," said Spencer.

Madole says if it weren't for her husbands job. she'd make the island her new home.

For now, she recommends other nursing students take part in the same experience she had.

"I think this is a once in a lifetime experience that you get throughout your program and I think it will make everyone and myself a better practitioner for being here," Madole said.

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