UTC Nursing School Trains Nurses of the Future to Fight Community Health Issues

By Beth Miller

Our local medical community has concerns about the opioid crisis and subsequent drug overdoses, pain management, nutrition deficits, health care gaps and, of course, the nursing shortage. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) School of Nursing is doing something about it.

The school recently received a $1.4 million grant to be used over the course of two years to prepare students to be Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP) in communities where these problems are most prevalent. The Clinical-Academic Network for Developing Leaders (CANDL) grant services seven counties: Hamilton, Bradley, Bledsoe, Grundy, Meigs, Polk and Rhea.

The CANDL grant recently hosted the Urban Health Disparities Conference on UTC's campus, bringing together the local medical community to continue the conversation concerning issues in Hamilton County and surrounding counties. Medical professionals from all disciplines, educators, researchers, nonprofit agencies, nursing school faculty members and graduate students attended. Guest speakers shared information on issues like addiction and recovery, roadblocks to healthcare access, access to healthy food and nutrition education. Experts from the medical community, professors and community-based agencies shared their knowledge on how to reduce these gaps.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department just released its 2019 Community Health Profile. While this is only a glimpse of what the report offers, it is important to note that Chattanooga is not devoid of the same problems plaguing the rest of the country. According to this report, Hamilton County saw 85 fatal drug overdoses in 2017 in Hamilton County. Of those, 71 percent involved opioids. Additionally, an estimated 50,180 individuals (14 percent of the population) were food insecure in 2016. The Health Department defines the food insecurity rate as the percentage of the population who do not have access to a reliable source of food.

So far, upon graduation, 90 percent of the students who participated in the CANDL program have gone on to work in rural and urban underserved areas. In addition to training nurses, the grant is preparing teachers, known as preceptors, to educate and evaluate FNP students in a clinical environment, which is a critical element in the success of these future nurses. The School of Nursing has teamed up with several clinics such as the Ocoee Regional Health Corporation and Regional Obstetrical Consultants to ensure that the clinical requirements for the program are met.

April Wilson, a clinical instructor in UTC's Social Work department, attended the CANDL conference. She has experience working with the types of patients the FNP students will be serving. She has primarily worked with families, individuals and children experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence as well as chronic homelessness. Wilson says she attended the conference "because the opioid epidemic and health disparities have a significant impact to client systems and how social workers are able to help various individuals."

An impressive list of representatives from CADAS (Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services), Orange Grove Center, Clinica Medicos, LifeSpring Community Health, Southeast Tennessee Health Consortium, CEMPA Community Care, a UTC Professor in Sociology and a UTC Professor and graduate student in Exercise Science gave voice to the issues at hand.

"I enjoyed the keynote speaker who discussed the opioid crisis and ways to better manage addiction," says Joan Bang, a CANDL grant traineeship student. "This is a major concern in our country, and as a future nurse practitioner, the information taught at the conference was invaluable. I will use what I learned in my future practice."

"The conference speakers were dynamic and totally on-target. They addressed many of the various health disparities in our community," says Ronda Christman, Ph.D. and Associate Professor at Southern Adventist University. "It is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the various healthcare programs and to network and connect with other practitioners and providers. The conference was very enlightening and inspiring with very relevant content for our community." 

The next CANDL conference, Chronic Pain: Assessment and Treatment, Including Opioid Education takes place April 11 and 12 at the Chattanoogan Hotel. The conference will address how to accurately assess and treat chronic pain in patients as well as provide education on addressing the opioid epidemic, including substance use and overdose risk management. The cost is $25, and it is open to all health care providers, educators, researchers, nonprofits and graduate students. Find details here.