Nursing students at UTPA treat and teach communities at fairs
Posted: 10/13/2010
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Natalie Hinojosa, a senior majoring in nursing at The University of Texas-Pan American, has learned the importance of educating the public about health risks that affect the community, especially diabetes.

Cesar Castro, a senior in the nursing program at UTPA, checks the blood pressure of Donna resident Dennise PiƱa at the teaching fair UTPA nursing students held at the STPA/BETA library Oct. 12.

About one in four people in the Rio Grande Valley are estimated to have diabetes, according to a 2006 statistic from the UTPA Border Health Office.

That is why Hinojosa and 97 other senior nursing majors at UTPA dedicated teaching fairs they were assigned to plan and host to educating the public about the risks leading to diabetes and treatment options for those who already have the disease.

The students, all enrolled in the NURS 4404 Community Nursing course at UTPA, held teaching fairs at five schools located throughout the Rio Grande Valley. On Oct. 12, fairs were held at South Texas Preparatory Academy (STPA)/The Business Education and Technology Academy (BETA) in Edinburg; De Leon Middle School in McAllen; La Villa Middle School and Santa Rosa Middle School. Another fair will be held Thursday, Oct. 14 at Morris Middle School in McAllen.

"Our population, Region One has an exorbitant amount of children with the AN (Acanthosis Nigricans) marker, which makes them at risk for diabetes. So we thought if we started them young it would alleviate the surge in diabetes," said Hinojosa, whose group organized the event at the STPA/BETA library.

Because of the high risk in Texas and especially in the Valley, school nurses assess students each year for AN - dark spots that appear on the back of the neck, near the under arms or other places on the body that indicate high insulin levels - which can indicate a risk for developing the disease. During the 2009-2010 school year, 16,656 of 148,594 students attending schools in the Texas Education Agency's Region One area, which includes the Rio Grande Valley, had AN, representing about 11.2 percent of that population. The state average was between 8-10 percent, according to the Border Health Office.

Nursing majors coordinated their events with each other, as well as with school nurses, principals and social workers. They also recruited local businesses and agencies to participate in the fair. Junior nursing students and other undergraduates preparing to enter that program also volunteered, said Nancy Nadeau, a lecturer in nursing for UTPA and course coordinator for the community health nursing class.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen undergoes a health screening during a teaching fair held by UTPA nursing students Oct. 12.

"This teaching fair is a dynamic learning experience for the BSN students that allows them to apply every single concept of nursing knowledge they have acquired in the BSN program," Nadeau said. "The entire process is a valuable 'capstone-like' endeavor that reflects our BSN philosophy of health promotion and maximal wellness. Students end up being surprised about their own abilities and proud of themselves as well."

At the fair held at the STPA/BETA library, Students and their families had their blood pressure taken, received free samples and information from local businesses that promote healthy lifestyles and visited 27 booths with information about diabetes risk factors and what can be done to prevent getting the disease.

Nursing students from South Texas College measured people's body mass indexes and performed other health checks. Area businesses gave demonstrations in Zumba, mixed martial arts and boxing while some children danced to a video game on Nintendo Wii. Dr. Monzer Yazji, a local diabetes specialist, gave a presentation on the illness, its risks and treatment.

Edinburg resident Toni Hutchings and her two grandchildren, Ryan Torres and Quelee Rodriguez, visited each booth and Rodriguez tried the Wii game.

"I love it; they should have these more often," said Hutchings.

Hutchings and her grandchildren appreciated learning more about eating healthy because they don't always keep the healthiest diet.

Julio Morales and Ian Davila, both fourth-grade students at Canterbury Elementary School in Edinburg, liked learning about how diabetes affects people's health.

"I learned there are two types of diabetes and you get diabetes when you eat too much junk food and eat too much sugar," said Morales, 10.

To learn more about UTPA's bachelor's in nursing program, visit the department of nursing's website.