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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 23, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 18
Peace Corps Fellows Move From Rural Villages to Urban Clinics

Lori Edwards, center, coordinator of the School of Nursing's Returned Peace Corps Fellowship Program, talks with students Lisa Seaman and Amanda Roesch in the Baltimore City Health Department's STD clinic.

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Lisa Seaman served for three years as a community health promoter in Nicaragua, where she instructed groups large and small on such topics as diabetes, breastfeeding and STD prevention.

Seaman, a native of Washington state, said she's always been interested in medicine, education and travel and saw the Peace Corps as a way to marry her interests. When her stint was over, Seaman wanted to stay involved in health care, particularly with underserved populations. The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing offered her the perfect match.

For 15 years, the School of Nursing has run the nation's only Returned Peace Corps Fellowship Program for nursing. The school allows those who have successfully completed Peace Corps service the opportunity to participate in the program, which includes priority in the admissions process and consideration for a $10,000 scholarship. The competitive scholarship is intended to assist qualifying students who plan to concentrate in the community health track of study and commit to working with underserved populations after graduation. A minimum of seven scholarship awards are offered each year.

To date, the school has graduated 233 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, or RPCVs, from the BSN program. It has 44 participants this academic term, nearly double that of last year, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Lori Edwards, coordinator of the program and an instructor at the SoN, says the fellowship's continued success can be attributed to both its uniqueness and its community outreach component that allows students to translate their overseas experiences into service for U.S. citizens in need.

Stella Shiber, then associate dean at the SoN and now retired, founded the fellows program in 1991 as a way for Peace Corps volunteers returning to the United States to be able to continue their experiences in community health care. The school's Community Outreach Program, initially developed for RPCVs, allows students the opportunity to participate in community nursing practice under the supervision of senior nursing faculty.

Peace Corps fellows need a bachelor's degree to enter the program and can follow one of three tracks: the traditional two-year BSN, an accelerated 13-month BSN program or a combined BS-MSN program. In addition to regular studies, the fellows have weekly meetings with faculty advisers and are required to participate in the Community Outreach Program, which consists of a course called Community Outreach to Underserved Populations in Urban Baltimore and service at a number of clinics, schools and organizations that provide health care for the city's uninsured and underinsured populations.

Edwards says the program provides valuable health services to the community while also providing an opportunity for these nursing students to receive hands-on clinical training.

Seaman, a member of the accelerated BSN class of 2006, says she had previously looked into attending medical school but realized that she was more interested in education and prevention than diagnosing.

"When I read the description of what a nurse practitioner is and does, I knew that is exactly what I wanted to do. And when I learned of the fellows program here, I knew right away that I wanted to go to JHU," she said. "The Returned Peace Corps Fellows Program is a great transition for Peace Corps volunteers to continue their work from villages where they served to serving Baltimore's underserved populations while gaining experience in nursing."

Seaman does her outreach work in the Wald Community Nursing Center, a health clinic opened by the School of Nursing to provide service to East Baltimore's uninsured residents and those unable to access health services in a timely fashion. At the clinic, Seaman performs vaccinations for pediatric clients, glucose monitoring, hearing screenings and a host of other services under the supervision of RNs and nurse practitioners.

"The Community Outreach Program is for all students, but it just may appeal more to RPCVs looking for a public health nursing approach that they implemented during their time in the Peace Corps," she said. "At the Wald Clinic, we gain experience of assessing the health histories of clients, assessing vital signs and educating the clients of their specific health care needs."

Peace Corps fellows also volunteer a wealth of time at many other community programs, either run by the School of Nursing or ones working in partnership with the SoN, such as the Baltimore City Health Department and the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore, a nongovernmental agency that coordinates housing, medical screening, employment services and English language training for refugees.

Edwards says the program has been a productive recruitment tool of the school and a great benefit to other students, as it attracts excellent individuals who can share their international experiences with other students.

"This program each year brings in experienced leaders who provide leadership to the class," Edwards said. "Plus, these fellows then apply what they've learned at the Peace Corps to the very needy population that surrounds us. It really is a perfect fit."

In 2006, the Peace Corps will celebrate its first 45 years. To honor the milestone, the SoN will host an anniversary celebration this spring with current Peace Corps directors expected to attend.

For more information about the Returned Peace Corps Fellowship Program, go to admissions/peacecorps/.


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