Nursing college takes center stage in January Sustainable Spotlight

GVL / Eric Coulter
Cook-DeVos Center for Health Services

GVL / Eric Coulter Cook-DeVos Center for Health Services

Ellie Phillips

Weighing in with twelve undergraduate classes, three graduate classes and six programs offered that relate to sustainability, Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing kicks off the semester as the Sustainability Spotlight program’s Sustainable College of the Month.

“Nurses have a natural fit with sustainability,” said public health nurse Julie Graham in a release posted to KCON’s spotlight website.

“They dedicate their professional lives to making the lives of others and their communities better. Healthier. Nurses are highly trained professionals whose doctrine is founded in holism. Nursing has a long history of identifying maladaptive behaviors and manifestations in individuals and communities and planning then evaluating measures for continual improvement.”

KCON has identified ways to incorporate all four areas of sustainability – environmental, social, cultural, and economic – into its curriculum. Historically, Florence Nightingale, noted as the inventor of modern nursing, identified the impact the environment has on human health.

Community health nurses assess a community, then develop, implement and evaluate programs that address health issues in the community at the population level. As part of the health care system, nurses go out of their way to incorporate sustainability in their practice, to reduce cost and promote economic sustainability.

The American Association of College Nurses defines cultural competence as the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to provide quality care to diverse populations, rounding out the application of sustainability with the cultural perspective.

These elements of sustainability are taught to KCON’s nursing students and support KCON’s mission to “provide quality nursing education to a diverse population of students,” according to the mission statement. Additionally, in the strategic plan for the college, one goal states that “by 2015, KCON nursing curricula will include an emphasis on the concept of sustainability as it relates to health and health care delivery.”

“Our Strategic Planning Committee is a group of our administrators, our deans and our faculty and staff,” said Elaine Van Doren, associate dean for undergraduate programs at KCON. “It’s a very broad group, because everybody’s kind of involved. And then what we do is we develop in that group what we think is a good strategic plan with all of our goals.”

There are four areas of distinction that KCON relates to sustainability with more specific focuses: the aging population-best practices, which focuses on improving the quality of life for the elderly; human response in health and illness, which focuses on the prevention and treatment of disease; reforming health care delivery and education, which focuses on health care and policy; and vulnerable populations-best practices, which focuses on health issues related to the impact of race, ethnicity, gender, culture, disability, social and economic statuses and other demographic elements.

The programs that KCON hosts related to sustainability include the Family Health Center, which is located at 72 Sheldon NE St., and seeks to provide accessible and quality health care as it creates a hands-on learning environment for graduate nursing students.

“The GVSU Family Health Center runs a fantastic program that provides quality health care to individuals in need, while providing experiential learning for nursing students,” said Bart Bartels, campus sustainability manager at GVSU. “The center is an invaluable asset to all in the community.

Another program is the Community Health Service program in the undergraduate study area. The program incorporates community-based learning and has courses spread through the undergraduate program, with one credit of each clinical course devoted to a community-focused learning experience.

Student nurses have also pledged to use the stairs instead of the elevator, and the Student Nurses’ Association volunteered almost 2,000 hours during the fall 2012 semester in the local community.

The nursing students built community gardens, worked with Habitat for Humanity, read to school children, gave influenza vaccinations and volunteered with numerous health organizations.

For more information, visit GVSU’s January Spotlight page at

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