Los Angeles, CA -- A mobile clinic soon will be rolling daily across South Los Angeles, offering families without health insurance a chance to be screened for breast or prostrate cancer, tested for hypertension or treated for other chronic conditions - at no cost.
Nursing and medical students from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science will be trained through what could eventually become a fleet of 38-foot motor homes converted into full-scale ambulatory clinics. Each vehicle could serve annually about 4,000 patients.
The service, expected to be available later this year, will be offered through the new nursing school at Charles Drew University. Dr. Gloria J. McNeal, who set up previous programs on the East Coast, was named in January as the school's founding dean.
McNeal, who previously served as associate dean of the nursing school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and earned 25 awards for teaching excellence, has set high expectations for those drawn to the program.
"I really want graduates of this program to be visionary, to think outside of the box and to deliver care anywhere," she said. "I want them to recognize problems and to create solutions. "I want them to be leaders."
The nursing school - named after political leader Mervin M. Dymally who played a key role in the university opening its doors - allows students to practice clinical skills in a simulated laboratory before moving to a real clinical setting. That lab contains an operating room, an intensive care area and a 12-bed medical-surgical unit.
Students, who have completed their undergraduate work in other fields, can earn a master of science in nursing degree in five semesters over two years, and qualify to sit for state licensing exams. Interested candidates can still apply through the university's website (www.cdrewu.edu). Separate undergraduate and doctoral programs in nursing will be rolled out at a later time, McNeal said.
Analysts have projected that far more nurses will be needed in coming years, as the population turns grayer. U.S. nursing schools last year turned away 40,000 more applicants than they could absorb, a nursing group reported.
Statewide, nursing schools received about 62% more applicantions in 2008-2009 than could be taken in, according to new figures from the California Board of Registered Nursing. "Many want to be a nurse," McNeal said, "but they can't get into a program."
It almost happened to McNeal. Her dreams of following her mother into nursing were nearly derailed after being accepted into a prestigious public high school she nearly flunked key courses. Her mother, raising two daughters as a single parent in a Philadelphia housing project, scraped up enough money to hire tutors in math, science and English. Within six months, McNeal's grades surged.
"It doesn't take 12 years to get the training needed to excel at the collegiate level; academic skills can be taught," said McNeal, who earned a doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where she accepted an offer to teach.
McNeal has published more than 100 articles, books, chapters and abstracts, and edits a journal for the Association of Black Nursing Faculty, Inc. a professional nursing organization. "When speaking with young people, I try to offer words of encouragement. I let them know, 'If I can do it, you can do it, too.' I did it and never looked back."
By focusing on the future, McNeal's interest in new technology lead to the cutting edge of patient care.
New devices were introduced in the 1980s to monitor patients in their homes, as the Information Age facilitated the development of telemedicine technology, a subject McNeal has studied for more than three decades. With this technology, nurses monitored - despite being miles away - a patient resting at home for heart rate, respirations, blood pressure and other vital information.
McNeal designed a system for summarizing these findings into a graphic report that showed doctors - at a glance - how patients fared over a period of time. Doctors also could read how patients responded to medication. Capturing data in this manner, McNeal helped innovate how critical care nurses remotely monitored cardiac activity.
"Using that technology helped me to realize that chronically, critically ill patients could be cared for in settings beyond the walls of the traditional Intensive Care Unit," she said. "I could put a hospital on wheels and take it anywhere."
She installed in 1994 her first mobile immunization unit. By 2006, she designed her third mobile project that delivered health care to families in poor communities in Newark, N.J. The program, funded by nearly $4 million in federal and foundation grants, branched out to four cities across the state as adults and children received primary health care at no cost.
In providing the poor with health care, there's no difference between the East or West coasts. Said McNeal, "The needs are the same."
ABOUT CHARLES DREW UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE AND SCIENCE:
CDU is a private nonprofit, nonsectarian, minority-serving medical and health sciences institution. Located in the Watts-Willowbrook area of South Los Angeles, CDU has graduated more than 550 medical doctors, 2,500 post-graduate physicians, more than 2,000 physician assistants and hundreds of other health professionals. The only dually designated Historically Black Graduate Institution and Hispanic Serving Health Professions School in the U.S. CDU is recognized as a leader in translational and health inequities research, specifically with respect to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health, and HIV/AIDS. The university is among the top 7 percent of National Institutes of Health-funded institutions and rated one of the top 50 private universities in research in the U.S. Recently, the CDU/UCLA medical program was named the "best performer" in the University of California System with respect to producing outstanding underrepresented minority physicians. For more information, visit www.cdrewu.edu