TROY -- Ten years later, the memories are still vivid for Dr. Amy Spurlock, professor in Troy University’s School of Nursing.
Spurlock was teaching a public health nursing course in the fall semester in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. Her students – seniors nearing graduation – came to her, asking what could be done to help in the aftermath of the storm. The result was a quickly organized “clinical experience of a lifetime,” which included 12 nursing students, Spurlock, faculty member Carolyn Andrews and Dr. Don Jeffrey, Dean of the college of Health and Human Services.
The team traveled to Wesley Memorial Hospital in Hattiesburg, Miss. with a collection of medical supplies in tow.
“It was shocking,” Spurlock said. “Almost everything in the news was centered on New Orleans, but if anything, Mississippi got hit harder in terms of storm damage. There was no electricity. There were shortages of everything – food, water, supplies, and prescriptions.”
When the group arrived, they found an almost surreal scene.
“The hospital was on lockdown and there were armed police guarding the entrances. There was triage being done in the parking lots. I had never seen anything like it,” Spurlock recalled. “The hospital staff was exhausted. Many had not left the hospital since before the storm hit, and they needed relief. Many didn’t know if they still had homes.”
For the weary staff, the willing group from TROY was a welcomed sight and the students were dispersed throughout the hospital to assume various duties.
“Some went to the ER, two went to the nursery, and six or seven of us went to a pediatric floor that was converted for use as a surgical unit,” Spurlock said. “When we arrived it was mass chaos, but by the time we left, things were more controlled. We were working 18 to 20 hour days for the first couple of days. The need was so great. The students were basically functioning as nurses, and it was the best clinical they were ever going to have.”
Spurlock said the medical staff was extremely grateful for the assistance provided by the students, and the outpouring from the community was amazing.
“By the third or fourth day, people from the town were bringing in food that they had prepared for the workers. The community rally came together and the response was gratifying.”
Spurlock said she found the experience to be life-changing and believes the students – all who went on to pass their board exams on the first attempt – found the experience rewarding as well.
“You don’t have many opportunities in life to truly give yourself over to something for an extended period of time on a voluntary basis,” she said. “For those four or five days that we got to give without expecting anything in return, it was very gratifying. We got so much more out of it than those we were able to help in a time of need. It remains the most rewarding experience of my professional life in nursing.”