College of Nursing, CPS Recognized for Innovative Partnership in Schools

Friday, September 30, 2016

By Laura Ramos Hegwer
Sept. 30, 2016

A 20-year partnership between Rush University College of Nursing and Chicago Public Schools to improve adolescent health has earned a national award from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The Exemplary Academic-Practice Partnership Award recognizes three partnerships in the country each year, and 2016 marks the first time the College of Nursing has won the award.

Jennifer B. Rousseau, DNP, WHNP, BC, an assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing, says the partnership benefits both the college and the community.

“Working with CPS allows us to provide nursing students with innovative learning experiences in non-traditional community settings,” says Rousseau. “At the same time, CPS recognizes that if students are not healthy, they cannot learn. This partnership is an effective way for them to empower students to make healthy choices to improve their academic success.”

Improving health outcomes for adolescents

Initially, the college and CPS launched the partnership with the opening of two school-based health centers in Chicago schools. Over time, the partnership grew to include other services such as obesity prevention and sexual health education, which are offered at several CPS schools. Leaders at the college and CPS aligned the partnership to reflect the goals of Healthy Chicago 2.0, a four-year plan to target disparities and improve health outcomes across the city.

The partnership has had a meaningful impact on adolescent health in Chicago, says Rousseau. For example, access to health care has improved, as reflected by a 14 percent increase in visits by CPS students to the school-based health centers from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015. During the same timeframe, Rush nurses nearly tripled the number of CPS students identified with asthma and provided the care they needed.

Some of the most significant improvements have been in reproductive and sexual health among teens. Reproductive health services, including contraception and sexual health education provided in the health center, have helped decrease the subsequent pregnancy rate for teens at Simpson Academy for Young Women from 30 percent in 2011 to 4 percent during the past three years.

“It makes such a difference for girls to not have a rapid repeat pregnancy when they are teenagers so they can finish school and be successful,” says Sally Lemke, DNP, WHNP-BC, who directs the health centers and is an instructor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing.

Improving adolescent mental health has been another goal of the partnership. Through screenings, Rush nurses increased mental health diagnoses among CPS students by 89 percent in 2015. “We have reduced the stigma of accessing mental health care in schools,” Lemke says.

Learning in the heart of the community

Lemke says the partnership underscores how the work that nurses do in community settings can have a positive influence while providing them with a unique way to learn.

“Rush offers so many opportunities for nursing students to get out of the classroom and inpatient environment so they can learn in unique settings,” says Lemke. “Combining that with formal, faculty-driven clinical training provides a lot of value to students.”

As part of their clinical rotations for several classes, nursing students can work directly with CPS students through the health centers. Some even implement evidence-based quality improvement projects. For example, students in the Generalist Entry Master’s in Nursing program may work on several capstone projects through the partnership. The partnership also allows doctoral candidates and faculty to practice in the community while engaging in research and other scholarly activities.

Being embedded in the schools also gives nursing students better insights into their patients, says Lemke. “Nursing students get a reality check on the situations and circumstances in their community that might affect their patients’ health,” she says.

Sustaining progress

Looking ahead, leaders at the college and CPS hope to develop better methods to measure the impact of the partnership on student academics. Early data suggest the partnership is having a considerable effect on graduation rates at Simpson Academy, where nearly 100 percent of students graduate, says Lemke. Attendance rates, grades and ACT test scores also have improved.

“We cannot say these are a direct result of the partnership yet, but we do know that by providing the girls with health care on site, we are supporting their academics,” says Lemke.

Leaders from Rush and CPS will receive the AACN award in October in Washington, D.C. They also will provide other organizations with guidance on forming similar partnerships during a panel presentation.

Rousseau believes the partnership has succeeded because the college and CPS share a common vision. “The program demonstrates our shared focus on engaging the community to improve population health,” she says.