[UTA Magazine]


Gateway to good health
Program matches nursing seniors with women needing prenatal or postdelivery support

For first-time mother Bibiana Parker, getting her pregnancy questions answered by UTA nursing students has made a big difference.

Parker, 33, was matched with two senior students as part of UTA’s Healthy Beginnings, a free program that provides supplemental home health care and medical information for pregnant women and their families who have primary medical care.

nursing students with expectant mother
Nursing students Cindy Carter, left, and Melissa Walling make a house call to check the health of expectant mother Aricka Stegall. All are participants in UTA's Healthy Beginnings program.

“The girls have been great,” she said. “It’s been very supportive.”

The program gives families extra education and support while identifying health needs, said UTA Clinical Instructor Janelle Hennes, a registered nurse who heads the program. “It gives them someone they can call and ask questions,” she said.

Families particularly like the home visits, she added. Other benefits include reducing preterm labor, providing information on healthy nutrition and spreading the word about prenatal care. “We are finding that more and more of the families are breast-feeding longer,” Hennes said.

Those in the program are typically between 13 and 44 and have low-risk pregnancies. Approximately 80 percent are teenagers. Senior nursing students participating in Healthy Beginnings are in their second-to-last semester. They work with 100 families a year or 50 per semester. Hennes said she receives referrals from 15 to 20 agencies for program candidates.

Melanie Nieswiadomy, a licensed master social worker who handles referrals for Health Care for Women, a clinic run by certified nurse midwives, says the women respond to the students’ energy and the flexibility of the program. “Some don’t want home visits, so they ask if the nursing students can come to their prenatal appointments.”

She said the students are very helpful with the basics, such as how to change a diaper, and with prenatal advice, which especially assists the younger mothers.

Nieswiadomy sees between nine and 15 women a day, and the screening process can help her do her job better. For instance, students recently reported to her that one of the expectant mothers was suffering from depression.

Being on the front lines with the mothers-to-be appeals to the students in the program. Nursing senior Stephanie Crawford especially enjoys the interaction with pregnant teens because she’s so close in age with them. Crawford, 23, and another student worked with a 17-year-old mother.

Crawford encourages clients to continue their education and said a couple have even expressed an interest in going to nursing school. “It’s very rewarding when we actually touch base,” she said.

The nursing students work in pairs with a mother who is about to deliver or who has recently delivered. They assess the patient and determine what the needs are. “We provide a support system for them,” Crawford said.

Benefits abound for the students as well as the families.

“I’ve acquired a sense of self-confidence,” said Crawford, who adds that Healthy Beginnings has made her more comfortable with children. “When they trust me, it really helps me.”

The experience also has strengthened her desire for a career in obstetrics/gynecology or pediatrics. “I used to wonder ... and now I think I could do it. I get in there and I find I’m stronger than I think I am.”

It’s a strength that Crawford and other UTA nursing students are eager to share with mothers like Bibiana Parker.

– Laura Hanna

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