Not many undergraduate nursing students get to watch surgeons operate on fetuses in the mother’s womb, but that’s just what two Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston students did this summer.
Kennedy Temple and Alyssa Chapa are on track to graduate in December with Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees through the school’s 15-month Pacesetter program. They both selected The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann as a preference among a host of community health nursing clinical options at facilities operated by UT Physicians throughout the Houston area.
“I wanted to pick something that would further enhance my clinical skills,” said Temple, who is interested in working in reproductive health care.
She did not expect to score an assignment in such a highly specialized clinic. While the number of facilities that provide treatment and interventional surgeries for fetal anomalies is growing nationally, such clinics can still be found only in large metropolitan areas. The Fetal Center draws patients from throughout Texas and several nearby states.
“Our operations are completely different than what you would see in a typical clinic,” said Thomas Cunningham, MSN, RN, CNOR, The Fetal Center’s director of clinical operations. Some patients require in utero surgery to treat abnormalities that may put fetuses at jeopardy, and others require enhanced prenatal care and delivery at high-acuity hospitals.
Nurses at The Fetal Center make first contact with patients and guide them through their journey. The nurses provide support, answer questions, and schedule patients for their initial consultations. They perform assessments and triage by telephone so the team can prepare for patients who often travel great distances for evaluation and treatment. A visit may consist of several appointments, including ultrasound and consultations with social workers and pediatric subspecialties.
Temple and Chapa arrived early Tuesday mornings for their clinicals and would follow a patient throughout the day from one appointment to another, learning from a variety of health care professionals along the way. Procedures the students observed included surgery to correct neural tube defects and treat twin-to-twin transference.
The unfamiliar terms could be overwhelming, and Temple said she spent a lot of time doing internet searches to learn more about patients’ conditions. “I would encourage them to go home and review the diagnosis, so if the patient came back, they would have a better understanding,” Cunningham said. “Both are excellent students.”
“It was a very valuable experience,” Chapa said. She gained not only clinical knowledge but a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in communicating with families at their most vulnerable moments. The first patient she met received bad news about the viability of her fetus.
“It can be a challenging clinic. The patients are there for high-risk problems,” Temple said. “Seeing how these practitioners approach the patients was valuable. I saw a lot of things I would want to incorporate into my own practice.”
For both students, the experience helped solidify their plans for the future – Chapa’s to work in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and Temple’s to go into labor and delivery.
“In the NICU, you are not only caring for the patient, you are caring for the whole family,” Chapa said.
Temple was impressed by all of the work and preparation that goes into a cesarean section. “I think I am more suited to caring for the moms,” she said.
Cizik School of Nursing and UT Physicians are partnering to provide more learning opportunities for BSN students and graduate students preparing to become nurse practitioners through the Student Pipeline Program.
“Nursing is an enriching career with many opportunities to serve, and the Student Pipeline Program allows students to excel and be a part of real-life clinical experience in many UT Physician’s clinics, including specialty clinics like The Fetal Center,” said Maria Mikhataykina, DBA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, assistant director of clinical project management in UT Physicians Healthcare Transformations Initiatives department. “The program aims to align personal passions and interests with their professional life.”
As for Cunningham, he was sad to see Temple and Chapa go and looks forward to precepting more students in the future.
“I am a huge proponent of nursing education,” he said. “I think that being able to expose individuals to a field that is so uncommon helps them understand there’s a lot more out there that they can do.”
“I am excited to see students’ success stories, and I look forward to learning how Chapa and Temple exchange their student badges for employee badges in the areas of their passion,” Mikhataykina said. “That’s where success starts.”