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Thomas University Nursing students participating in a practicum at the Frontier Nursing University in Kentucky pose in front of a portrait of FNU founder Mary Breckenridge. Participants include (front from left) Catherine Cline, Sonny Couture; (middle row) Todd Unangst, Mary Jane Bailey, Melinda Daniels; (back row) Prof. Deb Burch, Taylor Froede, Linda Tait and Yvonka Williams.


Thomas University nursing students learn from experience in Appalachia

Recently, eight undergraduate Nursing students and a nursing professor at Thomas University traveled to Hyden, Kentucky, and the surrounding communities of the Appalachian Mountains as part of an intensive practicum in Community Health Nursing.  In preparation for the Kentucky Practicum, students completed coursework in community/public health nursing with a particular focus on the unique healthcare needs of our nation’s coal-mining regions.

Participants included Todd Unangst, Mary Jane Bailey, Melinda Daniels, Linda Tait and Yvonka Williams, all from Tallahassee, and Catherine Cline, Sonny Couture and Taylor Froede, all from Thomasville.

The practicum was held at Frontier Nursing University, which began as the Frontier Nursing Service in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge. The organization was the first in the U.S. to use nurses trained as midwives who traveled on horseback and on foot to provide prenatal and childbirth care in patients’ homes. In 1939 Breckenridge established a school of nurse-midwifery, which is now Frontier Nursing University.

“Thomas University developed a partnership with Frontier Nursing University in 2010 at the urging of philanthropist Kate Ireland, who saw an opportunity for our two schools to collaborate in order to provide opportunities for TU nursing students to enhance their clinical experience and learn more about the health care needs of residents of rural Appalachia,” said Dr. Susan Otto, Chair of the Division of Nursing at TU.

While at the Frontier Nursing University, TU students stayed in Wendover Bed & Breakfast, the historic home of the FNU and where Breckenridge’s home is located. In addition to FNU, TU students visited the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, the Red Bird Mission, and the Kentucky Coal Mine and Museum. They also visited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Museum.

“It is our desire that students will realize that although the people of this region have many needs, they also have many strengths,” said Deb Burch, Assistant Professor of Nursing, and instructor of the course. “Students witnessed firsthand the generational pride of the people and their current struggles to maintain the only livelihood they have ever known. They saw the value in respecting people from different walks of life and how important it is for the various community resources and health care systems to work together if they hope to be successful in improving health outcomes.”

Catherine Cline was one of the TU students who participated in the practicum.

“I chose the Kentucky Practicum because it sounded like a unique opportunity to explore cultural differences within the United States,” she said. “I believe that nurses are pivotal in bridging the communication gap between old and young, rich and poor. Nurses are often the people who translate for doctors to enhance patients’ understanding. Therefore, it is my belief that understanding people of different backgrounds is a particularly important skills for nurses.”


Thomas University Nursing students participating in a practicum at the Frontier Nursing University in Kentucky take a moment to pay their respects at the Coal Mine Memorial. In Appalachia, coal mining still plays a significant role in the area.

Education that Engages... Empowers... TRANSFORMS

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