Class project tasks Auburn's nursing students to use creativity and nonverbal communication to address health issues of military veterans

By Amy Weaver, Office of Communications and Marketing



Auburn University assistant nursing professor Libba McMillan has turned what was once a simple class assignment into a way to provide nursing students a chance to use their classroom knowledge to influence people across campus.

During the fall semester, McMillan had students in the Professional Concepts in Nursing course research various health topics facing military veterans returning home and translate that new knowledge into a 10-page paper and a poster for possible use on campus.

"The goal isn't for students to be professional graphic designers, but rather to be able to communicate to different audiences via various mediums," McMillan said. "This ability to be versatile is important for future nurses as the health care system becomes more patient-centered."

Nursing student Jake Ray admitted he had no idea that Auburn enrolled nearly 300 military veterans and more than 400 dependents of veterans, or had a Veterans Resource Center. He also knew little about veterans and traumatic brain injuries.

"You don't really think about anything when they come home, except for post-traumatic stress disorder because that's the only thing you really hear about," he said. "But there is so much more than that.

"I think I'll be more conscious now of the different problems they could have and that will be a good thing to take with me."

Johnny Green, director of the Veterans Resource Center, appreciated the work done by McMillan's class so much, he asked to use a number of the posters at the center's new office, 217 Foy Hall.  Some of them also have been used for display outside the university.

"These are all issues that I have encountered with our veterans," he said. "I think our veterans will appreciate the posters because they can see that people do understand what's going on with them and it makes it a little bit more bearable. They're not as shy about seeking help."

Posters covered various topics such as PTSD, depression, drug abuse, animal-assisted therapy, phantom limb pain and suicide.

"I chose the veterans topic this year because I really wanted the students to be able to identify and understand the perspective of a different group, to really increase their understanding and exposure to the types of patients they are going to be interfacing with when they get out in their jobs and also in their clinical experience," said McMillan.

For the past few semesters, McMillan has worked with Eric Smith, director of Auburn's Office of Health Promotion and Wellness Services, to use the class project to address various students' health issues across campus.

"The posters represent the ability to translate this massive information into a concise message that captures what our patients can understand in a limited amount of time, and also what the public can understand," she said.

At a Young Life camp last summer, nursing student Katherine Whitmore met military veterans who struggled to leave the regimented military lifestyle behind to once again interact with their children or spouses. Between that experience and researching PTSD for class, she said she is more knowledgeable and confident in her ability to impact the care of this population as a nurse.

"I definitely feel like this project will help me in the future, mostly by understanding other people, what they're going through and definitely for having a good appreciation of how I can help the veterans who have given so much to us," said Whitmore. "I'm really thankful for this project."

Last Updated: Feb. 6, 2013

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