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Ministering to Struggling Students

Smith, Shannon Bright; Williams, Tiffany H.

doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000038
Department: Called to Teach

Shannon Bright Smith, DNP, RN, ACNA-BC, teaches at the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing in the BSN and DNP programs.

Tiffany H. Williams, DNP, APRN, CPNP, teaches in MUSC College of Nursing's BSN and DNP programs. She is a mentor to Robert Wood Johnson Scholarship recipients.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Accepted by peer review 09/05/2013.

As nurse educators, we often find ourselves mentoring students faced with stressors and challenges that impact their study and educational experience. Christians tend to rely on prayer and draw from their faith in difficult times. However, while prayer is highly valued, Christians sometimes need professional counseling to manage difficult situations. This also is true for nursing students. Faculty members can assist students to build on strengths through their faith. We also can model Christian caring and pray for God's help when interacting with struggling students.

Mentoring Taylor*, a first year nursing student, was more about building faith through ministry than about education. As faculty, we immediately knew Taylor was special when she sat before us with tears in her eyes. “I'm not sure that this is for me,” she softly explained. Taylor shared she always made great grades and successfully completed a master's degree in another profession. She now questioned her ability to succeed in an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program. She identified prayer as her usual source of resolve, but this time she was struggling.

We recognized the importance of meeting Taylor's needs through spiritual encouragement, and emotional and professional support. We encouraged her to talk with family or friends and share her ambiguity about nursing school. Taylor had reached a major crossroads: “Did I misunderstand the direction God was leading me, or is this part of the struggle to achieve what God has for me?” We encouraged Taylor to seek guidance from her minister. We also communicated with Taylor several times over the semester to provide encouragement and support.

Taylor came to our office the day of her second exam of the first semester. She appeared disheveled and broken and had a distant stare in her eyes. She expressed being stunned by the results of another exam and she was not able to focus her thoughts; let alone study. We escorted her to a quiet, private room and provided time for her to share her thoughts and feelings. We recognized that she needed immediate intervention.

Taylor was emergently referred to the University's Counseling and Professional Services (CAPS). The goal of CAPS is to help students understand themselves in order to assist them in developing effective coping strategies. After Taylor gave consent for CAPS staff to discuss her care with us, it was recommended that the final exam be postponed. The exam was rescheduled to allow time for her emotions to stabilize. We later learned Taylor had not successfully passed the course after taking the final exam. As faculty, we prayed she would receive guidance for her future path.

The following week Taylor came to visit at our office. She radiated an amazing calmness. The change was palpable. She expressed her thanks and gratitude, and then told us that nursing was not her passion. Taylor said she had prayed to God for direction and asked him for clarity. When she awoke the next morning, she felt refreshed with a call to youth ministry. Later that day, Taylor's direction was confirmed when she was offered a position in youth ministry.

Although Taylor ultimately chose a different path than nursing, we were able to minister to her needs in an amazing and effective way. Professional counseling helped her manage a critical situation and enhanced her self-awareness; while spiritual guidance led her to discover God's path for her life. It was gratifying that God allowed us to use our role as nurse educators to minister. We stood on God's Word, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

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Ideas for Educators

Use content of this JCN with students.

Elder Abuse: Read Olson & Hoglund, pp. 14-21. Discuss the case studies with students. Ask students to give a rationale for determining if abuse occurred and for the actions they recommend.

Exploring Missions: Read Jarlsberg, pp. 24-27 and Hawkins online article, pp. E1–E6 in the October/December 2013 issue. Ask students to explain in their own words why short-term healthcare missions are “worth it” or “not worth it.” Identify at least three things that can make a difference in short-term missions.

* Name changed to protect identity.
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