Aware of the significant unmet health needs in the Central Florida community, Angela Ritten, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC, clinical assistant professor and program coordinator of the BSN-DNP and MSN-DNP programs at the University of Central Florida College of Nursing in Orlando, volunteers at nonprofit Shepherd’s Hope, a faith-based organization of volunteers providing access to healthcare for the uninsured. This year, Ritten received the 2015 Dr. Ruth M. McKeefery Award for volunteer service from Shepherd’s Hope.
Q How does it feel to be one of four Shepherd’s Hope volunteers recognized this year among its nearly 1,800 volunteers?
Ritten: As you can imagine, this was an incredible honor. I had no idea that they were presenting me with this prestigious award. Afterward, I realized that in all past award years, Shepherd’s Hope only presented physician medical providers with this award. The organization created a new award category for other clinical providers, so Shepherd’s Hope could recognize ARNPs’ or PAs’ service to the organization and the community. Although appreciative, the award changes nothing. I volunteer because I get more than I give. I witness people making difficult choices that make me appreciate my own life.
Q How did you initially decide you’d like to volunteer there?
Ritten: I had been part of a startup medical care clinic for uninsured low-income patients. Shepherd’s Hope staff had assisted us in many ways. Ultimately, that organization realized it could not continue to support the clinic.
It was a comfortable move to shift my provider services to Shepherd’s Hope in 2013. What surprised me was there were so many patients who could not get healthcare. They are working poor with families, trying to make ends meet. It takes you out of your own comfortable area and walks you in the shoes of someone else. I don’t have to make a choice between day care and my asthma medication, as these patients do.
Q What’s a typical shift at Shepherd’s Hope?
Ritten: I spend a full day every week at Shepherd’s Hope and see about three patients per hour. You have a new patient on your hands every visit. Patients who present to Shepherd’s Hope often have uncontrolled chronic illnesses due to lack of regular medical care or acute illnesses that are preventing them from working or functioning. Their diabetes or blood pressure may be out of control, because they ran out of medication. Our goal with this all-ages population is to stabilize them and get them into affordable care systems, such as federally qualified health centers. Over the years, the diagnostics offered by our generous hospital partners have identified multiple cases of undiagnosed cancers or chronic diseases. Collaboration among the volunteers is outstanding, as they attempt to make the best care plan for the patient.
Q What about the experience inspired you to get UCF College of Nursing students involved in volunteering at Shepherd’s Hope?
Ritten: At Shepherd’s Hope, I have the ability to engage RNs studying to be NPs in the care of underserved populations, show them how to provide care to patients in an affordable way and allow them to practice motivational interviewing and history taking that can assist in determining the patient’s wishes and concerns. It is essential for NPs in training to understand the patient has to be part of the plan and determine if it will work for the patient. That may mean prescribing a less-expensive, equally effective drug than what might be ordered in another setting. It has been a rewarding experience to invite students to be part of the journey.
Q As an educator what do students gain from the experience?
Ritten: Students reflect again and again that their time at Shepherd’s Hope has forever changed how they relate to patients. They have many ah-hah moments that low-income patients are interested in learning ways to improve their health, that they will follow treatment plans and want to be included in the plan. Many of the stereotypes students have formed about poverty are discounted by the experience. In addition, they walk away sensing a need to give back in the future and be active in policy conversations to influence the healthcare disparities that are clearly evident among patients seeking care at Shepherd’s Hope.