Nursing volunteers ‘ready when the time comes’

When disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or the Boston Marathon bombings strike, volunteers from Northeastern’s School of Nursing will now be equipped to join the front lines in helping those in need thanks to a new partnership with the American Red Cross.

Earlier this month, American Red Cross volunteer representatives and trainers led a half-day introductory course at the Curry Student Center as part of its corporate volunteer program called “Ready When The Time Comes.” The program aims to train employees from partnering organizations and mobilize them as a community-based volunteer force in response to a disaster.

“This partnership is a great way for students to learn new skills and to give back to their community,” said Carole Kenner, dean of the School of Nursing. “The American Red Cross provides a great service to our community and nation. It is an honor to be a part of their efforts.”

This marks the first time the American Red Cross has partnered with a nursing school for this program, according to Catherine O’Connor, a clinical instructor in the School of Nursing who is leading the initiative. The 60 students, faculty members, and alumni who participated learned about the Red Cross’ mission and were introduced to some of the fundamentals of volunteering.

The participants were certified to volunteer with the American Red Cross during disasters and can now take additional training in specific roles such as working in shelters or being part of a field team.

“I think it builds a skill set that clinically we are not able to provide them,” O’Connor said. “We can provide a lot of services, but the American Red Cross has a lot to teach us as well.”

The partnership was set in motion last year, when nursing students were unable to volunteer in the Superstorm Sandy recovery effort because they didn’t have the proper training.

“This is the go-ahead to get certified in whatever area we want to help with during a disaster,” said senior nursing student Brianna Faherty.

The program will be offered every semester to Northeastern nursing students, faculty, and alumni. Last week’s training was for seniors, but O’Connor said she is hoping all nursing students can participate in the future so they can take advantage of the certification while at Northeastern.

“We are hopeful this will be the start of a long partnership,” said Kelly Miller, a Red Cross volunteer services program manager who helped train Northeastern students last week.

One of the main goals of the School of Nursing’s mission is addressing urban health concerns and providing care to underserved populations such as the homeless, impoverished, and elderly.

To help those in the Greater Boston area who cannot readily get healthcare, the School of Nursing created the Health in Motion Van, a mobile clinic that provides HIV tests, immunizations, and support for referrals, among other services.

Justin Alves, a 2013 graduate of the School of Nursing who works on the van, participated in the disaster preparedness training. He said Northeastern nurses’ medical skills and the American Red Cross’ disaster management expertise is a great match.

“On the van we deal with hospital situations outside of the hospital,” Alves explained. “And I think that is where our skill set is going to come in handy.”

The Red Cross partnership builds on other disaster assistance education programs for Northeastern nursing students. For instance, all students participate in disaster training at Boston Medical Center under the direction of Maureen McMahon, an alumna of the School of Nursing’s graduate program.

“With nursing students, the American Red Cross is getting people who understand how to work with patients and how to talk to people from diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds,” O’Connor noted. “I’m very proud of the students we have here. They are people of action. And this is something they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.”