Our Lady of Lourdes Convent on our San Rafael campus is home to our more senior sisters in need of assistance. Under the direction of the administrator Sr. Mary Kieffer, a caring and skilled staff tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the sisters. The time throughout the pandemic was particularly challenging for this vulnerable group with extended periods of quarantine isolation and taking meals in their individual rooms and such. But now a spirit of hope and gratitude permeates as vaccinations become even more widespread, the general health of sisters remains stable, Chapel services have resumed, and visits from sisters in other convents have been allowed. In addition, an intergenerational collaborative project with neighboring university students is now possible and finally underway.
The highly regarded nursing program at Dominican University of California (DUC), founded as Dominican College by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael more than 130 years ago, “prepares students to meet the health care needs of diverse populations across the lifespan,” according to the school’s website. “Students focus on clinical excellence through practice in a variety of acute care, long-term care, and community settings, as well as in state-of-the-art clinical simulation labs.” A second-year course called Geriatric Foundations aims to explore the needs of an aging population, and nearby Lourdes Convent provides an excellent clinical training ground with resident sisters and a helpful skilled staff all too willing to oblige these young scholars with practical opportunities.
This semester long course currently has six clinical groups each with 6-8 students. One such group under the direction of DUC Clinical instructor, Teresa Upson RN, MSN, CNS, who spends about 8 hours at Lourdes each Monday, have enjoyed getting to know some of the sisters and have greatly benefited from the opportunities to learn. It’s been a win-win collaboration.
According to the clinical director at Lourdes, June Sangounsup, RN, the morale boost for the sisters coming out of a year of quarantine isolation is hard to measure. “Our sisters look forward to seeing the students—it has made a huge difference for many sisters who had been feeling depressed and isolated. In addition, it has been helpful for June. “Having the students here has sharpened my team in being able to provide even better care for the sisters, and it has been great in refreshing my own knowledge and skills as I aim to be ready for all the questions, they ask me.”
In addition to practicing on tools and devices, the students get a chance to simply sit and visit with the sisters as they make their rounds. Sr. Mary Kieffer, who has been instrumental in bringing this partnership to fruition, was compelled given the intergenerational component. “Our sisters are energized by their youthful exuberance and love being able to talk about their life and reflect on their ministry when the students ask questions. It is validating for the sisters to be heard, and the students gain wonderful insights from varying perspectives about all manner of things.”
The DUC Nursing Program relies heavily on hands on experience to tie in theory with practice. It is a vital part of the students learning and required to cement their knowledge as well as understand the theory behind the practice. “Our Geriatric semester has been around for more than fifteen years I believe,” remarks Ms. Upton. “The students have had very positive experiences with the staff and sisters at the Lourdes. The staff have been very supportive and willing to help the students with questions and tasks as well as helping them understand how the care of one is different from another. June, in particular has been a huge inspiration and guide in their learning process by provide background, patient insight, and nursing support.”
As these students work to bring theory in to practice, “The lab portion is a chance for students to utilize the nursing process to assess, plan, implement, and evaluate care as well as adapt the required care to meet the individual’s needs, explained Ms. Upton. “They must develop methods to help their patients cope with chronic disorders and illustrate ways of caring for elders and their caregivers. I cannot express how blessed my students and I have been having this experience at Lourdes Convent.”
Instructor Teresa Upson, RN, MSN, CNS has Deep Dominican Roots
Ms. Teresa Upson shared that her time on campus and with the Sisters holds a special meaning. “I have always found Dominican and its campus to be a second home, and these memories I have had since childhood always bring me joy. Having this time with the Sisters and the staff has given me an opportunity to give back for all that Dominican has provided to me and my family. My mother and her three sisters were refugees during the second World War. Through the Pope’s Children’s Relief Fund, they were connected with the Dominican Sisters who provided full scholarship for them. They provided shelter and a good education as well as a stable support system and comfort in turbulent times. In fact, Sister Aquinas and my Aunt Magda were seniors together in the Upper School. Growing up, my family made many trips back to Dominican and the Bay Area to see the Sisters. My mother always reminded us how blessed she was and how the Sister’s prayers shaped her life. Although most of the sisters who shaped my mother’s life are gone now, the campus and the Dominican spirit continue to provide wonderful memories and comfort. Due to their generosity, I too have been blessed and thus I take this blessing and ‘pay it forward’.”