On the day before Independence Day, most Americans have images of fireworks and hotdogs dancing in their heads. But, a dozen nursing students at the American Red Cross Illinois Valley Chapter in Romeoville had images of disasters and blood drives dancing in theirs. 

The Benedictine University students are pursuing Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. To get their diplomas, they must get clinical training in community health. That’s where the Red Cross comes in. The students can do ride-alongs with fire response teams, assist with health screenings for new volunteers or organize shelter bags. 

These clinicals also serve a dual purpose. They might encourage the nurses to become Disaster Health Services Volunteers down the road. 

On this morning, Ruth Richardson–a registered nurse who is a supervisor for Disaster Health Services–walks the group through classes needed to deploy for a disaster and the processes involved in helping disaster victims get assistance. “It can be overwhelming to people when they first join, so it’s nice to break it up and talk about it,” says Richardson.

Registered Nurse and Red Cross volunteer Ruth Richardson discusses Disaster Health Services with a group of Benedictine University nursing students

Sarah Zmola, a Red Cross volunteer and a Benedictine University student herself, spearheaded the partnership between the two organizations last fall. She stepped in as a leader and mentored six of her classmates who also took part in the program.

Clinical experience in the community has long been a hallmark of Benedictine University’s nursing program. Assistant Professor Margaret Delaney is hoping the partnership with the American Red Cross will continue, calling it a positive experience for those already involved.

“It has also offered them a glimpse into some of the challenges facing the population, making a far greater impact than reading about these challenges in the local paper of text book,” says Delaney.

Zmola is quick to point out that becoming a health services volunteer is a big commitment because a 24-hour shift doesn’t stop after 24 hours. “You have to follow up with clients. It’s similar to case work because it’s difficult to complete anything in a 24-hour period. It can take a few days.”

But, at least one of the student nurses may already be ready to take on the challenge of volunteering with Disaster Health Services. Amanda Geier is interested in international work with the American Red Cross. 

“I think I have always had the drive to help less fortunate people in other countries,” says Geier. “I work with a nurse who spent a month in Africa with an alumni group from her nursing school. When she came back and told me about it, it was eye-opening!”

Written by Red Cross Communications Volunteer Diane Eastabrook

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