Interprofessional Education [Literally] in the Field

Scott Harpin, PhD, MPH, RN; University of Colorado College of Nursing (See bio below)

The pandemic continues to teach us many lessons. For academic-based public health nurses, many of us have stood with our local and state PHN leaders and asked how we can help their efforts in our ‘public health time to shine’. For others in higher education, we have reflected on our day-to-day work for bright spots to distract from 20-some months of troubleshooting, “pivoting”, and coping.

Homelessness was on the rise across the U.S. the years leading up to the pandemic. And the COVID-19 crisis has made that social issue far more visible in our communities large and small. When an undergraduate nursing student and a first-year medical student approached me to help them start a new street medicine student group on our campus January 2021, I jumped at the chance to marry my clinical/volunteer interests, love of interprofessional education, and call to mentorship for a project that seemed at the time very exciting. I had a long history of working with persons experiencing homelessness; I found myself volunteering at Denver’s largest congregant women’s shelter summer 2020 which brought pandemic-related homelessness close to home. A natural next extension was understanding encampment homelessness and doing so as an exemplar of interprofessional collaborative practice and the epitome of service learning with our health sciences students.

Eight months later, we walk past the sign that says “Trespassers will be prosecuted”. I’m with my family medicine physician colleague, the two pioneering students, and the local city parks homelessness prevention coordinator. We walk into a field near a creek that 5 individuals call home, a tent city with personal belongings and collectables that paints a visual of outdoor homelessness all-too common in the news today. The students carry backpacks full of supplies and personal items, confidently but gingerly approaching the first man they see. I fall back from our group a moment, grateful I’m not in front of a computer at a Zoom meeting, and in awe of the students and physician colleague. I pause to remember a recent conversation I had with a longtime academic mentor who reminded me that of all the legacies we leave behind as educators, it is the people, the students we worked with, the ‘cool’ projects we develop, that mean the most at the close of our academic careers. 

Dr. Harpin is an Associate Professor, MCH Division Chair in the University of Colorado College of Nursing, and directs the DNP/MPH Dual Degree Program.

He is an 8-year member of ACHNE, the Association of Community Health Nursing Educators: https://www.achne.org/

In ACHNE, he has recently been involved with the 2021 Strategic Planning process, leading the Mentorship workgroup. He can be reached at scott.harpin@cuanschutz.edu 

In order from left to right in the featured photo: Sarah Nachtman (Homelessness Prevention Coordinator, City of Commerce City); Kiera Connelly (CU Nursing student); Dr. Scott Harpin (CU Nursing faculty), Dr. Katy Boyd-Trull (CU Family Medicine faculty); Rebecca Henkind (CU Medical student)

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