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Healthier Communities, Better Students

Undergraduate students from the College of Nursing (CON) are well known in the community. Invitations to collaborate come from many external partners in the Knoxville area as well as rural Kentucky and even the sovereign nation of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“Working with the UT College of Nursing not only provides education and learning experiences for our future healthcare professionals but educates our community about their health and how to live a healthy life,” said Shannon Reynolds, MPH, manager of network development at the UT Medical Center.

The students’ community-engaged learning exemplifies UT’s new Experience Learning initiative. UT nursing students combine real-world experience with reflective practice through questions such as, “How does your experience help you think about factors that contribute to health, illness, or injury for people in this population?” “What did you learn today that you would do differently next time, or the same?” “How is this significant to your role as a nurse?”

Guiding CON’s community engagement efforts are the college’s mission to promote society’s health as well as the learning objectives of the community/public health course. An effective strategy is in the co-creation, with community partners, of community health fairs that provide health education and screening.

Senior Citizen Health FairEach spring, junior nursing students collaborate with community partners to assess health needs, create a plan of action, conduct the health fair event, and evaluate its outcomes. A recent example was an event hosted at a local residential complex for senior citizens living independently. The health fair was the culmination of a six-week partnership between nursing students and senior citizens arranged through the Knoxville-Knox County Office on Aging. Students created interactive booths about diabetes, fall/injury prevention, blood pressure screening, sexually transmitted infections in older adult populations, heart health, tobacco health risks and quitting, and breast health.

The College of Nursing understands that community-campus collaboration achieves a reciprocal set of goals. Lisa Neal, service coordinator for the senior residential program, wrote, “I just will say how impressed I was with this group, and you are all blessed to be with such bright, positive people who are utilizing their gifts and opportunities.” Relationship building with community stakeholders brings resources to the community while also honing the professional skills of future nurses.

The process for co-developing community health fairs, according to nursing instructors, Dr. Polly McArthur and Dr. Mary Sue Hodges, is similar to the nursing process: assess needs, plan, implement, and continuously evaluate. Community representatives must be full partners in each step of this process.

The way that health fairs make a difference is summarized by Dr. Gary Ramsey, Chair of Undergraduate Nursing Programs. “Undergraduate nursing students have multiple opportunities to be involved in experiential learning throughout their curriculum. These experiences provide great learning and the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges that many people face in meeting their healthcare needs. The excitement of the students and the appreciation of the public is a great motivator in assessing and delivering meaningful care.”


Polly McArthur (865.974.7610,

Mary Sue Hodges (865-974-7596,

Elizabeth Burman (865-974-8363,

The College of Nursing’s Community Health Fairs were nominated as Partnerships that Make a Difference. Click here to read more.