Students, staff attend intensive at Hazelden Betty Ford CenterAsia Groves | College of Nursing Sep 18, 2017
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is the largest nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment organization in the United States providing treatment, education, and advocacy for individuals, families, and communities affected by addiction. In February and March of 2017, a group of University of Colorado College of Nursing students and employees had the privilege to travel to the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California for a week-long educational intensive on addiction diagnosis and treatment.
Kim Paxton, DNP, APRN, ANP-BC, LHIT-C, Assistant Professor, served as the faculty representative in attendance with four other CON students and employees. “The entire experience was to help us as health care providers understand what really underlies addiction and not from a textbook, but from a real live perspective of the people living the experience of addiction,” Paxton says.
Approaching the intensive as students rather than providers made it possible for the attendees to gain this perspective. Dr. Paxton recalls the group’s arrival at the Betty Ford Center, where they were met by Joseph Skrajewski, MA, MFTI, Executive Director of Medical and Professional Education at the foundation. Skrajewski reportedly reminded the group that they were not there to treat anyone. “You’re here to learn from these patients. It is a gift that they provide to you,” he said.
This gift was not taken lightly by the students and staff in attendance. Donna Roberts, BSN, RN, a student in the Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner program explains, “We were engaged on an emotional and intellectual level through direct participation with those seeking treatment during their process of self-exploration and self-discovery.”
Each student gained invaluable professional development from the intensive, learning how to identify signs of addiction and broach the subject of substance use with patients, and gaining insight into how addiction is treated. For some of them it was more than professional; it was personal. Megan Peek, BSN, RN, Nurse Case Manager at Sheridan Health Services shares, “Alcoholism runs in my family, and gaining insight into how to effectively treat this chronic, debilitating disease is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart.” She says that hearing directly from individuals with substance use disorders allowed her to learn about the humanity behind these illnesses and the resiliency of the human spirit.
For FNP student Oriana Cruz, BSN, RN, CEN, the intensive answered questions she had after seeing her own patients transported to treatment facilities from the emergency department where she works. By hearing the accounts of individuals living with addictions, she was able to learn what happens to the patients who leave her care and receive treatment for substance abuse elsewhere. “Treatment for addiction is a specialty practice and it is best done at a facility specializing in addiction treatment,” she says. The purpose of the intensive was not necessarily to teach the attendees how to diagnose and treat addiction, but to help them identify when a patient may need specialized care and to provide a frame of reference for what that care may look like.
The intensive trip was made possible by an anonymous donor to the university who recognized the role nurses and nurse practitioners have to play in substance use intervention. “I am so thankful that our anonymous donor had the vision to understand the impact that a nurse practitioner can have,” Dr. Paxton says. “To any alumnus who wants to help make a difference in a CU nurse practitioner or a CU nurse, this is the most wonderful gift to provide because this type of education is not something that we can place into a curriculum.”
Each student and staff member that attended the intensive expressed their gratitude for the anonymous donor’s generosity and vision. Roberts points out that by funding similar programs outside the regular nursing curriculum, donors have the power to impact the future of health care for all. In this case, the intensive gave attendees even more than they expected. Roberts says, “We attended Hazelden Betty Ford Center to learn about the science of addiction – we left knowing the spirit of recovery!”