Because we care – Project “Generation Care”: an example of Service Learning at the University of Mannheim

cropped-generation-pflege-logoLabor shortages in hospitals and nursing homes are a severe problem, in particular in regard to the on-going aging of the population. A group of business students from the University of Mannheim, who are involved in the student initiative Enactus, recognized the need and launched “Generation Care,” a project that intends to raise awareness and acceptance for the nursing profession among high school students.  Robert Quick, business student and a member of Enactus, shares about the organization and his experience.

Tell us a little bit about the project “Generation Care.” What is it and how did you come up with the idea for it?

enactus_mannheim_generationpflege01We came up with the idea for several reports about the labor shortage in the social sector, we talked to people working in hospitals and nursing homes to get a better impression of what was really going on and to fully understand the challenges they were facing. The stories we heard all had one thing in common: even though the nurses wanted to spend more time with their patients and give them excellent care, they were not able to do so because they simply didn’t have enough time due to lack of personnel. Many positions remained vacant, as working in the social sector was perceived as highly unattractive.r “Generation Care” in 2011, when we became aware of the problems nurses were experiencing in their everyday work. After having read

The conversations with the nurses encouraged us to develop a plan that would improve their working conditions. First of all, we thought about a way to improve the image of their profession so that others would be willing to take on that kind of job as well. Through an awareness campaign, we tried to reach as many people as possible and to show them how important and rewarding the work of a nurse is. We were able to reach media coverage in several newspapers and magazines and a local TV station featured our project idea. To increase awareness in Mannheim, we organized a booth in the city center where we educated people about the current situation of social institutions. Finally, we helped Daniel – a male nurse – to start a blog about his experiences in his everyday work.

The second aspect of our concept was the so-called “Care Day”. On this day, we gave young high school students the chance to spend a day in a nursing home or hospital in order to see what working in this field actually is about. We hoped that they would develop a more positive and realistic view on the social sector and that some of them might even consider it as their future profession.

How did you get in touch with the nursing homes, what was their reaction to the idea of the project?

When we started the project, we approached several nursing homes in Mannheim and presented our idea to them. Many of the nurses and directors told us that they felt as though society was not aware of the problems they had to deal with in their everyday work and thus they were very enthusiastic about students like us trying to tackle this immense problem and were eager to participate in the project.

 

enactus_mannheim_generationpflege02The project is based on the cooperation of volunteers. Was it hard to find/convince people to volunteer?

In our project we mostly worked with young high school students who had not been in touch with the social sector before. To make it easy for them, we made sure that several students from the same class participated in the “Care Day” and assigned them to the same social institution. This made it easy for them to get in touch with the nurses and to experience the everyday work in a nursing home without feeling uncomfortable in this new and unfamiliar environment. Once they realized how rewarding working in this field can be, they were also willing to volunteer on a regular basis.

What was the feedback of the people who have participated?

The feedback of the participants was very positive. The students enjoyed spending time in social institutions and learning from experienced nurses about their job functions. I was especially impressed by some of the teenage boys because they were incredibly sensitive and caring with the residents in the nursing homes – something I really hadn’t expected. I guess this was also part of the reason why the nurses enjoyed having the kids around so much and even told us that they would like to host another “Care Day”.

The initial project has now ended, but it lead to the creation of another project, “Social Point.” How did you combine “Generation Care” and “Social Point”?

We felt that many kids who got in touch with nursing homes on the “Care Day” were interested in gaining deeper insights into the social sector. This is why we merged “Generation Care” with “Social Point”, a project which establishes partnerships between schools and social institutions. Now interested high school students have the chance to help out in social institutions once a week and to gain valuable insights by lending a helping hand to the nurses.

What I really like about this project is that both parties benefit from the concept: the students can assess whether a career in the social sector would suit their interests and might even be able to start their apprenticeship in the institution in which they previously volunteered. At the same time, the nurses profit from the additional help they get from the students, which alleviates some of the stress from their work day.

 

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