Erin O'Donnell, R.N., B.S.N., a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, understands young teenage girls. "Call it 'exercise' and you don't get the greatest response. Call it 'hip-hop' and they love it," she says.
That understanding led O'Donnell to teach hip-hop dance routines to seventh-grade girls at St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia as her project for CHOP's Community Nursing Advocacy Fellowship. And while she's got the girls' attention, she teaches quick health lessons at each of the weekly dance sessions.
The girls also laugh, tease, jump, sing, wiggle, pose and sweat.
"It's a workout, but it's fun," says Jailyn between dances. "We get to dance and hang out with our friends, and Erin's amazing. She tells us about our bodies and how they work, so we can take better care of ourselves."
O'Donnell can see that in addition to dance moves, the girls are making a move toward healthier lifestyles. "I definitely see them making healthier snack choices; water instead of soda, for example," she says. "They ask a lot of questions and tell stories that relate to the day's topic. But the dancing is definitely their favorite part."
That's OK. For O'Donnell, who's been dancing since she was 3, it's her favorite part, too.
"I applied for the fellowship because I wanted to volunteer in the community," she says. "I knew St. Francis was a small school and could use some help. This is great for the girls, and it's an opportunity for me to have fun and represent CHOP in a positive way."
Learn more about the Community Nursing Advocacy Fellowship program on Page 2.
Children's Hospital sits in West Philadelphia — a community of incredible diversity and, in many ways, incredible needs.
The Community Nursing Advocacy Fellowship, the only fellowship of its kind in the nation, was created to help meet those needs and, at the same time, provide CHOP nurses with an outlet for their desire to step outside the Hospital buildings and serve in the community.
Many nurses care for the sickest children every day in their jobs. They appreciate working with healthy children and youth, and are energized by figuring out novel ways to help them stay healthy. Whether helping parents toddler-proof their homes or teaching second-graders about sugar-free drinks or enticing teenage girls to exercise, nurse fellows give of themselves and gain a better understanding of the community.
Generous donations from the 1675 Foundation and Carol Ware Charitable Lead Trust have allowed the program to grow from six fellows in 2004 to 10 spots now. The nurses initially spend their allotted 12 hours a month visiting nonprofits, shelters, schools and family court. Then they develop a project drawn from that experience.
"Until you spend time with families in a homeless shelter, you can't really understand their challenges," says Mary Polk-Pretsch, R.N., M.S.N., who works with acute patients at CHOP. "Mothers have nowhere to store milk or fresh food. So if they miss the set mealtime, their only alternative is fast food. Children don't have a safe place to play outside, so they don't get enough exercise."
Her project got mothers and their children, who were residents of ECS St. Barnabas Mission, exercising together and learning about nutrition. "The kids had fun, and the moms learned they can be good role models for their children," Polk-Pretsch says.
"I got a better perspective on how healthcare is tied to family dynamics and lifestyle," says Derek Waters, R.N., B.S.N., a primary care nurse who combined math, science and fun activities to teach 7-year-olds about nutrition at Penn Alexander School.
Beth Henry, B.S.N., C.P.N., has spent 24 years as a CHOP nurse but says her knowledge grew exponentially during her fellowship. "Every experience was an adventure, and it taught me to think about families and their circumstances in a whole new way. It helped me be a better nurse."