The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) has a rural health care immersion program where the focus of the curriculum is on disaster and crisis response. Their classroom discussions are usually hypothetical, but after a tornado hit northwestern Wisconsin in late May, nursing students in the rural health care program put their knowledge to the test by aiding in tornado relief efforts.

Clinical assistant professor Pamela Guthman was leading a team of seven nursing students in the Community and Public Health Immersion Clinical program in northwestern Wisconsin when a tornado hit nearby. Students were there to learn about the necessity of health care providers and health educators in rural and underserved communities.

The nursing students partnered with the American Red Cross to aid in recovery efforts, specifically those who were displaced after the tornado destroyed a trailer park. The students did not provide immediate medical attention, but they were able to help by interviewing people affected by the tornado, and providing those people with health and housing information. Guthman tells the Wisconsin State Journal,

“What we’re going to be doing is helping people who have been devastated by the loss of their homes. We know that housing is very closely related to a person’s mental health.”

The counties affected by the tornado have been under-resourced for a long time, creating a health disparity and lack of resources which makes it even harder for these communities to bounce back following a natural disaster. One of the goals of the rural health care immersion program is for students to learn a sensitivity for the challenges of rural communities. There is a need for both health care professionals working on acute crises and professionals focusing on prevention. Public health nurses are an essential part of the healthcare team in rural areas.

To learn more about the rural health care immersion program at UW-Madison and their service providing tornado relief aid, visit here.

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