Nursing students at Black Mesa Chapter
UNM nursing students are getting real-world experience working in primary care clinics in the Navajo Nation.

Two dozen advanced nursing students from the University of New Mexico College of Nursing and San Juan College will soon be gaining real-world clinical experience providing care to underserved communities in the Navajo Nation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded UNM's Judy Liesveld, PhD, $611,259 over the next two years to administer the Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention-Bachelor of Science in Nursing Practicum grant. Liesveld, an associate professor in the UNM College of Nursing, is designing the program for students to experience primary care nursing in underserved communities, while increasing partnerships between the college and health clinics in the region.

The award enables two groups of senior-level nursing students to spend two weeks working with a preceptor in Chinle Indian Health Service Unit primary care facilities. The students will be selected based on their academic performance and interest in serving the medically underserved in a community-based primary care setting.

“Learning about a community and its health needs, and being able to play a part in improving health locally is a wonderful opportunity and experience,” Liesveld says. “In these remote primary care settings, you use every scrap of knowledge you’ve acquired and get to apply some creative thinking to complex health issues.”

The program seeks students in their final year of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at UNM and at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. If selected, the students will complete nearly 100 hours of clinical work, while developing and completing a community project, like implementing an immunization education campaign, introducing nutrition and exercise programs or creating other health improvement opportunities the Chinle community deems important. Practicum students and faculty also will receive cultural humility training to build cultural awareness when addressing health needs, challenges and opportunities.

At least six students who complete the initial practicum will be selected yearly to return to the Chinle IHS Unit for their capstone practicum – an additional 96 hours of clinical service in a rural primary care setting. Ideally, Liesveld says, these nursing students will continue their passion for working in primary care settings in underserved areas.

Chinle, Ariz., is about 230 miles from Albuquerque and 150 miles from Farmington, requiring an extended stay for the practicum. Liesveld says Chinle was selected because of its need for access to primary care facilities and its proximity to UNM and San Juan College. Chinle IHS Unit nursing preceptors will be involved in creating clinical and community experiences for the students.

“We’re very excited because this program delivers health care where it’s needed while providing advanced nursing students a unique chance to learn primary care on the frontlines,” Liesveld says, adding that traditionally, many nursing students think they need to begin their careers working in a hospital.

“This program shows our students the personal and dynamic feel of primary-care community nursing as a career path," she says. "We want to create a passion in our students to work in medically underserved areas where they become an important part of the community and can really have an impact.”

The project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under D11HP29864 Nurse Education, Practice, Quality, and Retention, $306,023.00. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.