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When 80,000 to 90,000 fans file into Jordan-Hare Stadium on any given fall Saturday, anything can happen – on the field and off.
Constance Hendricks, the Charles W. Barkley Endowed Professor in Auburn University's School of Nursing, wants each student in her Population Health class to work at a home football game to get firsthand experience of how medical care is provided at a mass gathering.
"The students will experience a different kind of healthcare delivery in the stadium than they are used to seeing in a hospital or clinic," said Hendricks.
Student nurses work with the staff from the Emergency Medical Service at East Alabama Medical Center to address the needs of the population of the stadium from nine first aid stations, said EMS Director Dan Goslin.
This semester marks the first time in a number of years the collaboration between EMS and the nursing school has been a part of the course curriculum.
"The students may complain about the idea of working at a game, but they are always amazed at the need for care on game days," Hendricks said.
And it's much more than dealing with fans that have had too much alcohol to drink before entering the stadium.
"All the 90,000 people that come to the stadium bring their current healthcare problems with them," said Goslin. "So if you are a diabetic before you come to the game, you're a diabetic while you're at the game."
A team of 50 to 60 doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, paramedics and student nurses have to be ready to respond to anything on any given game day.
"I learned that when you are with the public, with that many people, there are so many variables, you never know what's going to happen," said senior nursing student Heather Bagents. "I knew that things would be unexpected, but I got to see firsthand that they really are."
Before the Ole Miss game began, Bagents assumed she would encounter some fans that had too much to drink outside the stadium, but she didn't think she'd help care for a young diabetic boy, an unconscious fan, or a woman in premature labor, among other fans.
"I didn't get to be there for much of the game at all," she admitted. "I was in the ambulance, riding with the paramedics."
And that suited Bagents just fine. She said she's been trained for the unexpected all her life, having grown up on a farm in south Alabama.
"Waking up from one day to the next, you never know what's going to happen with the cattle or the chickens," she said. "Just like a nurse in the ER or the ICU, you've got to be on your toes and alert at all times."
Senior Heather Edell spent the same game working in the main first aid station and patrolling the student section. She also got to ride with a nurse on one of the EMS medical carts.
"We weren't that busy, but the things we did get to see were pretty cool," she said. "I got to ride in the ambulance with a patient to the hospital. That was pretty fun."
Both Bagents and Edell enjoyed the class assignment because they never knew what they would face next. Coincidentally, both are interested in emergency medicine.
"I doubted that I would ever be in an ambulance, being able to start an IV on a patient and be successful at it," said Bagents. "It really encouraged me to do ER nursing. I think that's what I'd really like to do."
Edell has appreciated Hendricks' other class assignments – including working alongside the nurse at the Lee County Detention Center and following a nurse on home healthcare visits – but she believes she is suited for ER or trauma nursing because of her experiences as a volunteer firefighter with Southwest Fire Department.
"I get bored with routine and the unexpected keeps me on my toes and I like that," she said. "It makes you think and I really like critical thinking."
Hendricks also has her class learn about public health firsthand by providing healthcare screenings to youngsters in area schools. They even visit Head Start locations to teach topics like bus safety and oral hygiene, and senior centers and nursing homes to present lessons such as preventing falls at home and herbal and prescribed medicine interactions.
"It's what a baccalaureate nurse should do," she said. "It's the community health aspect that makes the difference that sets a baccalaureate nurse apart from an associate degree nurse."
Goslin, also a registered nurse, appreciates Hendricks' strategy for providing future nurses with a well-rounded education.
"What you find out when you get out of nursing school is that nursing doesn't fit any particular mold," he said. "There is no nursing floor or doctor's office or ER or ICU that's going to give you exactly what you see in school. A program that mixes up what your clinical experiences are, and then ultimately what you see and what you learn will ultimately turn out better nurses in the long run."
Last Updated: Nov. 17, 2011