Working at Project HOPE Makes an Impact on WJU Nursing Student Devyn Nickerson

  WJU Communications
  Tuesday, January 30, 2018 3:04 PM
  Service, WJU News, Academics

Wheeling, WV

When WJU senior nursing major Devyn Nickerson began working at Project HOPE, little did she know how the experience would impact her life – both personally and professionally.devyn-1-web.jpg

“I knew I wanted to work in the medical field, and nursing seemed the perfect combination between medicine and caring for people. I was planning to work in the intensive care unit upon graduation and become a nurse anesthetist in a couple of years. That was until I began working with Project HOPE,” Nickerson said.

At right: WJU nursing student Devyn Nickerson (left) and Crystal Bauer, director of Project HOPE, demonstrate for a patient how to use a glucometer to manage diabetes

Project HOPE is a street medicine team that works under the auspices of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. Street medicine teams bridge the gap between homeless and structured healthcare institutions by going to the people, providing medical care for people that often suffer from mental illness in their environment, and building relationships to empower the individuals. It is a collaboration of medical, nursing, social work, pastoral care and other health care professionals who provide basic medical care, food, water, clothing, follow-up appointments and information on agencies and services to individuals living on the streets and in homeless shelters in Wheeling.

The lifelong Wheeling resident never knew there was a large homeless population in the city. “I quickly oriented myself to the reality that there are people living on the streets in Wheeling that are often neglected by society. We visit patients where they live – under bridges, inside shelters and on the streets – and provide them medical care with dignity. Project HOPE provides an avenue to provide care with a purpose,” Nickerson explained.devyn-2-web.jpg

At right: The Project HOPE street team gets ready for a night treating patients. From left to right: Dr. Walter Taublenslag, Crystal Bauer, Project HOPE director, Bryce Kesling, Dr. William Mercer, Ohio County Medical Director, Dr. William Przybysz, Nickerson, Project HOPE coordinator, Kathy Frangos, and Ryan Seidewitz, WJU MEDLIFE Student. Behind Nickerson is Dr. Thomas G. Wack.

She began as a volunteer, but now is part of the team that cares for patients on the streets of Wheeling, as well as at the team’s multiple exam rooms in the city. In addition to caring for patients within her scope of practice, Nickerson works with Project HOPE Director, Crystal Bauer, to empower patients and raise funds and awareness.

Seeing how some of the homeless residents live opened Nickerson’s eyes to the injustices in the community and what matters in life, she said. “I had the chance to meet and provide care to an 18-year-old woman who was homeless. After spending time speaking with her, she began crying and said she didn’t know that anyone in the world cared about her. This could be any one of us someday.”

devyn-3-web.jpgNickerson learned about Project HOPE “by overhearing a conversation at Wheeling Spice and Coffee in downtown Wheeling. I was looking for opportunities centering around medical service and Project Hope seemed to be the perfect match. Once I got involved – I fell in love with it. Working as a nurse in a hospital is interesting, but after working with Project HOPE, using my talents in a more hands on, community health and sometimes emergency care situations with impoverished populations is what I’m passionate about. I get to do it all, from providing acute medical care to the emotionally intensive mental health care to the people that need it the most,” Nickerson added.

When she began to volunteer with Project HOPE, she came to realize her dreams of being a nurse anesthetist had been replaced with working at a place where she could serve the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of a community. She plans to work, following graduation, on a reservation for the Indian Health Service in the western United States.

While Project Hope opened her eyes to how she could use her nursing education to serve others, Nickerson said it was her mother who instilled in her the Jesuit values of being a person for others and her professors at WJU that reinforced the values and created her “ah hah!” moment.

Having that understanding of the mission called Nickerson to start a local MEDLIFE Chapter at WJU in 2016. Made up of Wheeling Jesuit students from many educational disciplines, the club focuses on doing local volunteer work and raising funds for medicine, education, and development projects for impoverished communities in other MEDLIFE sites in Peru, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Tanzania, and India.

Many of the MEDLIFE members rotated as volunteers with Project HOPE, and the group held a 5K race in the spring of 2017 to raise funds. The monies raised, Nickerson said, helped to cover the costs for WJU students travel to Peru last August for a service trip, and some of the funds raised were used to improve a home for a physically disabled mother and her daughter in Peru. During that trip, WJU’s MEDLIFE Club joined 60 students from other clubs across the country to assist local medical personnel and MEDLIFE volunteers to execute medical mobile clinics in impoverished areas and work alongside community members to build multiple staircases, which are a vital indirect step in accessing government healthcare.

Nickerson and the club also held two International Healthcare Forums last year, which featured WJU professors and students, and local doctors who presented and lead discussions on healthcare systems and global health issues in their home countries.  

“My service work at Wheeling Jesuit and working with the Project HOPE team have really opened my eyes to what matters in life. It astounds me that people go into medicine purely for money or job security. Programs like Project Hope and MEDLIFE are about taking care of people when they are at their most vulnerable state and providing compassionate and empathetic care. Somebody needs to do it, and I have the drive, passion, and skills…so it seems as if my path, at least for the near future, has been decided.”


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