CSM Professor Teaches Students to Care Beyond Patient

a:10:{i:0;s:301:"Edward McBride

Nursing Professor Laura Polk Recognized with Faculty Excellence Award

As a nursing professor at the College of Southern Maryland, Laura Polk teaches her students that healing goes beyond the patient, and caring extends to the community. The latest recipient of CSM’s Faculty Excellence Award, Polk has been a member of the college’s nursing faculty since 2001, and teaches with an emphasis on pediatrics, also known in medical circles as “peds.”

In her 20th year of nursing, Polk holds a doctorate in nursing from Catholic University and has been the recipient of a Meritorious Service Medal and two Army Commendation Awards. Previously in the Army for six years, she had experience in adult neurology and oncology before she switched to pediatrics where her focus has been since 1990.

At CSM, she has been actively involved in developing the college’s nursing program which just completed an accreditation review following a complete revision of how the nursing curriculum is presented to students. “We wrote a new philosophy, conceptual framework, course descriptions and course outcomes, and changed content placement for each of the different nursing courses. I am really proud of how we incorporated pediatric nursing into the program. When I arrived, the students didn’t get much peds content, and there was no dedicated pediatric clinical rotation. We worked hard to change that and now the students have a dedicated clinical time, both in acute care and in community-based settings, where they have opportunities to work with children and families,” she said.

A pediatrics rotation is a key element in future nursing success, according to Polk, because pediatric nurses often have to focus on the psycho-social issues surrounding illness and learn how to practice family-centered care.

“Families go through tremendous role process changes when they are caring for a sick child. When the person who is in charge of providing transportation to school or making all of the family’s meals is suddenly absent in order to stay with and advocate for the sick child, household roles are shifted and it is important for our students to understand how those shifts affect the dynamics of the family. In the case of long-term illness, nurses not only take care of the patient but also the family. They need to be able to recognize underlying or sudden family problems such as the immense stress that so many families face as they try to manage work, a sick child, their spouse, other children and/or family commitments,” said Polk, who noted that the skills students learn in dealing with psycho-social issues can be applied to nearly all nursing specialties.

“Our students are not just memorizing and dumping the info after an exam. They are learning key nursing concepts that help them make the theory-to-practice leap,” she said.

Polk guides her students through a three-week acute care clinical rotation at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “It’s tough because it is a short rotation and there is so much I want the students to experience. Each student gets assigned a different patient each week and I try to vary the ages and encourage the students to discover other patients through their peers. We talk a lot about boundaries, especially in peds. The students are almost always anxious and nervous to go to Children’s because the kids they will meet are really sick and may be hospitalized not only for chronic diseases and surgeries but also for extreme child abuse,” she said.

“One of the key lessons during the rotation is about not pre-judging a family or assuming things about a patient prior to learning the facts about a family’s situation. It is easy to assume that a child has been abandoned rather than taking the time to discover that maybe that child has a single parent who has several other children at home, lives a great distance away and maybe has to go to work everyday. We also teach the students that while it is important to care, you can’t think too much about what happened that led to that child in that bed or you won’t be able to work. Nurses in pediatrics need to focus on how they can really make a difference for that child and family right now,” she said, adding that pediatric care is complicated by the number of developmental issues students need to be aware of prior to delivering care.

“We teach the students about developmental milestones, behavioral issues, how to talk appropriately with each age, so that when they are doing an assessment on a 2-year-old they realize that most kids at this age have a limited number of people they trust, things like that. We also encourage the students to talk about their feelings and experiences during a post-clinical conference and an online seminar discussion – how did the rotation go, what happened and how did you feel about it,” she said.

Polk is the latest of 20 CSM faculty members who have been recognized by their peers since 1989, for making outstanding contributions to teaching, curriculum and profession development with the college and the community at-large.

“I’m so excited about receiving this award. Since it is an award from the faculty, it provides peer validation that I am on the right track in the classroom and it also shows students that the college recognizes its strong nursing faculty who has won three of the 20 Faculty Excellence Awards,” she said. Polk lives in Waldorf with her husband Dave and children Katie, Kinsey and Robert.

For information on nursing and allied health classes call 301-934-7534 or 301-870-2309, Ext. 7534 for Charles County; 240-725-5499, Ext. 7534 for St. Mary’s County or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7534 for Calvert County or visit http://www.csmd.edu/healthcare/.