A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Hands-On Healing

By Mason Spirit contributor on April 21, 2015

Students in the College of Health and Human Services are involved in crucial caregiving and research roles at home and across the globe. From patient care to disease management, community education and support to critical injury research and rehabilitation, here are just a few of the individuals working to make a difference in the world of health care.

Caring for Vulnerable Populations 

This semester, Mason nursing major Chelsea Ferguson learned how to say “pain” in 10 languages. The senior was working in one of the Northern Virginia community clinics run by Mason’s School of Nursing and noticed the diversity of patients, so she asked each how to say the word in his or her language.

The first Mason and Partners clinic that opened in Manassas Park in October 2013 has been the model for two additional clinics this year in Fairfax County­—one near Bailey’s Crossroads and the other in the Springfield area.

The College of Health and Human Services is running the clinics with the help of a $1.02-million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, but each clinic is open only a few days a week, and the demand for these services far exceeds what the school is currently able to provide.

“We are thrilled to be able to provide access to health care to a group that really doesn’t have any other options and to teach our students the best, most effective and cost-efficient way to provide this care,” says nursing professor Caroline Sutter.

—Jamie Rogers


Blazing a Trail

This past summer, Mason graduate student Shannon Turner traveled to Swaziland, a country near South Africa, where she helped develop a tuberculosis infection control policy in a local hospital. Swaziland has the highest TB incidence rate in the world, largely attributable to the disease’s ability to take advantage of immune systems weakened by HIV.

Turner, the first student from Mason’s Department of Global and Community Health to study in Swaziland, worked there for three weeks as part of her master of public health practicum. Her travel was made possible with the support of the Skolnick Family Global Health Fellowship.

“This experience was truly life changing, on both a professional and an individual level,” Turner says. “Having the complete freedom to choose my project, as well as the full responsibility for its execution, definitely added a significant amount of pressure. At the same time, it gave me a healthy dose of professional self-confidence once the project came to a successful end.”

—Jamie Rogers


Working to End Hunger

More than a dozen students and faculty members made the six-hour drive from Mason’s Fairfax Campus to McDowell County, West Virginia, to raise awareness among grandparents and grandchildren about nutritional food choices, menu planning, shopping, and meal preparation.

Lisa Pawloski, Nutrition and Food Studies’ chair, and her nutrition lifespan class took on the Feeducation™ project last fall. They developed a basic nutrition intervention template, met with foundation representatives, and revised the program to best fit the needs of McDowell County residents.

The program is part of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, which for more than 10 years has been commissioning research and looking for long-term, sustainable solutions to end hunger among the elderly. In McDowell County, 38 percent of individuals are elderly and disabled, and 59 percent of children are living in a household without a biological parent present.

“This was an exciting opportunity for students to make a difference, while earning credit,” says Pawloski. “Not only is this program critical to learning nutrition knowledge and concepts, but also to providing our students with a greater understanding of some of the challenges that individuals face living in poverty.”

—Sudha Kamath


Improving Function for Those with Spinal Cord Injuries

While vacationing with family in Maui in 2012, Mason criminology, law and society major Nick Balenger struck a sandbar while swimming in the ocean and severely injured his spinal cord. Today, he is able to walk with assistance and is involved in a spinal cord injury study taking place in Mason’s Functional Performance Lab.

Rehabilitation Science doctoral students Jared Gollie and Gino Panza are leading the seven-person team working with Balenger and another subject in the study, and Department of Rehabilitation Science chair Andrew Guccione says this small study is just the beginning for the lab and students. The department is in the process of signing memorandums of understanding with area rehabilitation hospitals, which will increase the number of studies Mason students are able to work on.

“[Rehabilitation research] isn’t simply learning how to use a piece of equipment or how to gather a particular kind of data,” says Guccione. “This is where students begin to understand how the facts and figures fit into science and how that generates new knowledge.”

—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95

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