Student nurses' community health project takes concepts learned from lectures into real-life practice

Nursing students collaborate with Cumming School of Medicine for Winter Wellness Challenge

Members of the WOWW committee with Nursing 289 Group 6 (Front to back and left to right): Katie Flynn, Elizabeth Saquibal, Stephanie Schroeder, Tam Truong Donnelly, Seema Ganesh, Gurjot Deol, Diana Mukhametzyanova, Brittney Kuzio, Bassem Abdel-Rahman, Kiril Plehanov, Michael Webb

Members of the WOWW committee with Nursing 289 students

Kelly Johnston, Cumming School of Medicine

Winter can be trying, both physically and mentally as gloomy weather and cold temperatures make sticking to healthy diet and exercise habits that much harder. To help combat those winter blues, nearly 100 students, faculty and staff in the Cumming School of Medicine focused on their health and well-being by taking part in a Winter Wellness Challenge, developed by undergraduate student nurses at the Faculty of Nursing.

The interdisciplinary and evidence-based holistic wellness initiative was a collaborative effort between a group of eight student nurses in nursing professor Tam Truong Donnelly’s community health course and Cumming’s Working Our Way to Wellness (WOWW) committee. The project was also a collaboration with the University of Calgary Human Resources, WellBeing and WorkLife portfolio.

Participants competed as teams and individually by using a self-tracking spreadsheet to keep track of accumulated daily points for their progress in six areas of health including physical activity, exercise, nutrition, mental, social, and financial health. Both weekly and grand prizes were awarded for the healthy habits sustained throughout the four-week challenge.  

“It was perfect timing for us because we wanted something to inspire people to be well, active and engaged in the winter,” says Katie Flynn, a co-chair member of the WOWW committee about the collaboration opportunity with the nursing students. “It was as simple as taking a five-minute stretch break that earned you points or treat your coworker to coffee or have lunch with someone as that fulfilled the social wellness aspect. Participants could get points for things like attending lunch and learns and bringing a friend. Or if they signed up for yoga or fitness class.”

The challenge was developed out of a student community health project last year to promote and improve the overall health and well-being of University of Calgary faculty and staff. When that pilot study was implemented with the graduate students at the Faculty of Nursing, the group realized it could be beneficial for students as well.  

"Working on the Winter Wellness Challenge was a great way to put all of the community health concepts we learned from lectures into real life practice,” says student nurse Seema Ganesh. For example, as part of the evaluation process, students conducted a community assessment, a pre and post-assessment survey, and key informant interviews with participants after the end of Winter Wellness Challenge.

Donnelly, who is also an adjunct professor at the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, says the project allowed her students to apply population and community health theoretical knowledge and health promotion principles they’re learning in class into a real-life health interventions.

As second-year nursing student Stephanie Schroder puts it: “It is our interactions within the community that help us truly understand the importance of community health nursing and how these fundamental principles become the foundations of nursing practice. As nursing students, we hope to empower the community and individuals whom we work with, but really it is they who empower us.”

Flynn says the positive level of engagement and excitement around the wellness challenge at the Cumming School and working with the students to run this challenge gave the committee new fresh ideas for other wellness-themed events going forward.

“It was awesome to work with the nursing students,” says Flynn. “The partnership between the two faculties was great because it achieved so many different aims - it helped support our staff and faculty to live a bit more enriched and wellness-based life and it also helped the students with their learning.”