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Knocking Down Windmills

Imagine a nation in which every community has a pre-approved emergency shelter with enough local people trained to staff it.

That’s the dream of Red Cross volunteer and nursing professor Cheryl Schmidt.

Then Dr. Schmidt teamed with another nurse volunteer, Susan Hassmiller, endower of the American Red Cross Susan Hassmiller Nursing Award to increase involvement of local nurses in disaster preparedness and response activities.

Now, with Schmidt leading the charge, Red Cross nurses aren’t dreaming. Instead they are knocking down windmills—training nurses and nursing students across America so they will be ready to serve in emergency shelters should a disaster occur in their community.

Arkansas Pilot

The American Red Cross of Greater Arkansas in Little Rock, the chapter at which Schmidt volunteers, won Hassmiller Nursing Award funding for her program to train nurses and nursing students in disaster response.

Schmidt, a teacher in the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, won the funding with a straightforward proposal. She would bring Arkansas nursing professors to the chapter, certify each to serve in Red Cross shelters, provide training materials and send the professors home to train nursing students in their respective communities.

The first class was a rousing success. Nurse professors were certified in shelter operations, first aid, introduction to disasters and disaster health services. Instruction materials were provided so the newly Red Cross certified teachers could take the program back to their schools of nursing and, in turn, certify senior nursing students toward the end of the Community Health Nursing course.

The State of Arkansas was making steps toward achieving an environment in which nurses are trained in disaster preparedness.

Then something unexpected happened.

The American Red Cross National Nursing Committee decided to extend the nurse shelter training to nursing students throughout the United States.

Going National

“Disaster preparedness is a critical component in the professional development of nursing students,” says American Red Cross Chief Nurse Sharon Stanley, “especially after September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.”

The American Nurses Association, the National Student Nurse Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and other nursing organizations agree. Together the organizations formed a workgroup and developed a program for student nurses to provide consistent disaster education and recruitment.

The workgroup decided to model a new American Red Cross National Student Nurse Program on the Arkansas experience. Cheryl Schmidt was asked to teach the pilot at the April convention of the National Student Nurse Association.

More than 200 nursing students from all over the United States took the pilot course. As the program expands, hundreds, and potentially thousands, of nursing students will be better prepared to serve as disaster volunteers.

Looking to the Future

Some of the trainees will no doubt stay on as Red Cross nurse volunteers throughout their careers. Far larger numbers, upon graduation from nursing school, will probably become busy with work, family and the demands of life, and resign their volunteer positions.

Whatever path each nursing student takes, their disaster training will remain a part of them. Each will be ready to serve as a spontaneous disaster volunteer should their community experience a disaster.

Cheryl Schmidt’s dream of having trained disaster staff in every community is moving forward. Windmills are starting to topple.