BC nursing students head to Northern Maine for service

BOSTON -- For the past two decades, Donna Cullinan has led students from Boston College Connell School of Nursing on service trips to Haiti or Jamaica. This year, with pandemic and travel restrictions preventing their usual international travel, the students will bring their abilities and resources to underserved Maine communities close to the Canadian border.

Cullinan, a clinical assistant professor at the school, began organizing the trips after Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. Each January break, she would bring faculty, alumni, undergraduate seniors doing their population health clinical, and nurse practitioner students in their final year before certification.

The group would travel to different towns and villages, where they would set up wellness fairs. Besides offering screenings, diagnoses, and treatment, they would have educational stations on different areas of wellness, such as nutrition and health conditions.

"I decided, when I had to cancel this Jamaica trip, to take the same concept and set it up somewhere else," Cullinan said in an April 6 interview.

A friend put her in touch with Catholic Charities Maine, and they have been in regular contact with Maine Public Health Association. Together, they formed a needs assessment for the people in the area they chose for their destination.

Cullinan also received a grant from her school's campus ministry to buy supplies: walkers and canes for the elderly, glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, heating pads, ice packs, and educational children's books.

"We'll bring the students, the knowledge, the supplies," Cullinan said.

From April 19-23, the group will run wellness fairs at churches in Caribou, Houlton, and Madawaska. Everyone going on the trip has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and they are renting a bus so they can socially distance.

Cullinan said they plan to address not just physical health but "holistic" or "whole person" wellness.

"We're really keeping with the Catholic Charities and the Boston College Catholic Jesuit mission of the spirit," Cullinan said.

They will have tables to educate about nutrition, diabetes, hypertension, oral hygiene, and mental health. They will also help with coronavirus vaccinations and a Red Cross blood drive, and will perform visits to the homebound. They will even raffle off grocery store gift cards for people experiencing food insecurity.

The only difference between this trip and previous ones, Cullinan said, is that they cannot give out prescriptions, since only pharmacists can dispense in the United States. However, they can write notes to patients' doctors and help supplement the cost of medications.

Cullinan said they are talking about making this an annual trip.

"I think it's really valuable for our students to see the disparities of health and the under-resourced areas throughout the United States," she said.

Being situated in Boston, she said, "we live in a city that has always been really progressive in health for the underserved. So I think that goes well with our mission."