Lots of hospital patients do not have anything to wear when they finally get the all-clear to go home. Their clothes may be soiled or torn after receiving care, especially if they were involved in an accident. That’s what happened to a man experiencing homelessness when he went to a hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a gunshot wound. The paramedics cut off his clothes to treat his wounds, so when he tried to leave after several weeks of recovery, he had to walk out in the freezing cold wearing nothing but a hospital gown.
Four graduate nursing students, Emily Kilmer, Jillian Shirilla, Kayla Sallinger, and Jillene Saler, at Marquette College of Nursing recently started a clothes drive for discharged patients at five local hospitals. All four nurses are a part of the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program, but they are already making a difference in the community.
“This university is dedicated to a mission of community service and our program really didn’t have a [service] project until now,” Kilmer said, so the students decided to start their own.
They are setting a good example for their peers, and the college couldn’t be prouder.
“I think it’s so important for students to give back and be engaged,” said Dr. Debra Casper, program director. “It’s hard to do this in graduate school with course work, family life, and work responsibilities. My goal was to help them engage with the community and do something in their last semester of the program with Marquette. This specific project was a way to give back to people in our community and to the health care organizations that welcomed our AGACNP students and helped with their training.”
The nurses spend their time collecting donation boxes from all over campus. They take all kinds of clothes, including shoes, pants, shirts, coats, and even underwear for men and women. Pants with an elastic waist are in particularly high demand. The project has become a passion project for all four students.
Saler, who spent eight years as a critical care nurse, knows just how important this work can be for people who show up to the hospital with nothing, usually on one of the worst days of their life.
“If you have someone who came in really ill, they might have soiled their clothes and those clothes might not be salvageable,” Saler says. “We want to make sure that we’re maintaining a patient’s dignity. When they’re getting ready to go home, it breaks your heart to say, ‘Well, here’s a gown, have a good day.’ It’s about giving back to the hospitals that take time to train us and to the patients that we provide for.”
The entire college is getting involved. Students, faculty, and staff are pitching in to make sure no one goes unclothed.
“The college reached out to tell us that the boxes were overflowing and that we need to move the donations because they’re piling up,” Saler explained. “That was great to hear because we weren’t really sure what kind of response we would get. We worried about not having enough for the five hospitals that we were collecting for, and it turns out that concern was unnecessary.”
Marquette College is home to one of the country’s best graduate nursing programs in the country, currently ranked 61st on the 2023 U.S. News and World Report list.
All four students said they gravitated towards the college because of its mission to help others.
“Since I was born and raised in Milwaukee, I was very familiar with Marquette and really liked their mission,” Saler added. “It was an easy choice for me when I decided to advance to graduate school.”
The nurses are set to graduate this spring, which means they will soon be leaving campus for good, but Casper said the project will live on in their memory.
“All these hospitals have graciously taken students into their hospitals for training. They have needs and we are in a position as acute care nurse practitioners to try and fill those needs, whether that’s a clothing drive or something else,” Casper continued. She said the project will soon be added to the school’s curriculum to encourage future students to give back to those in need.