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Alumni Q&A: Caring for vulnerable communities

This alumni spotlight is part of our celebration of the Temple BSN program’s 50th anniversary. Read more stories here.

Sheila Dhand’s education at Temple University didn’t kick off her career in community health. Rather, it helped her realize professional goals she set years before entering the BSN program.

Dhand graduated from Temple University in 2009, and currently works primarily in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. It’s a neighborhood known for its high numbers of heroin abusers and other people suffering from addiction. Accordingly, much of her work involves that population.

Along with working in the emergency room at Episcopal Campus of Temple University Hospital, Dhand also volunteers at the Catholic Worker Clinic, a community outreach center providing meals, clothes and social services for those in need. And over the past few years she’s been involved with Prevention Point Philadelphia, a group that offers harm reduction services, such as needle exchanges and free medical care, for drug addicts and sex workers. There, she’s coordinated clinical rotations for Temple University BSN students, and currently works one day a week as the wound care clinic coordinator.

Dhand discussed what led her to work on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, and how Temple’s BSN program helped her define her goals and career path.

What inspired your focus on community health?

I’d always been interested in medical work but wasn’t sure of my path. After receiving a bachelor’s degree before coming to Temple, I took a year to figure things out. I volunteered at a free health clinic in Mobile, AL. The nurse there was such an inspiration. It was soul work for her. To see this person, who truly cared, made me realize the kind of people I wanted to be around.

How did you come to work at Prevention Point?

I was working in the ER at Episcopal nearby and volunteering at the Catholic Worker house in Kensington. I was curious about Prevention Point and since I was a nurse I thought I’d have something to offer. So I would just hang around until people had the time to pay attention to me.

Finally, I met with the executive director. I was teaching for Temple at the time, and it was his idea to have students come in and learn what they do. So we started a clinical rotation for junior and seniors.

It was really successful, based on student feedback. They appreciated the first-hand look at the opioid epidemic, and as nurses they gained skills like having productive conversations with people suffering from addiction. Some came back and continued working. It struck them deeply and I’m happy they had that experience.

The clinical rotation lasted for three and a half years. Now, I’m working as a wound care nurse in a mobile van at Hancock and Indiana streets.

How did your BSN education help you further your goals?

Apart from it being a good, solid nursing program, which is not to be undervalued, I always want to be around people that are doing what I want to do. Getting to meet people doing so many good things made it something really special.

I was lucky enough to do an independent study with one of my mentors, who taught me epidemiology. We worked at a clinic primarily for undocumented, migrant farm workers. She had a lot to teach me and still works with me now. I’m honored because she does so many things -- working, teaching graduate and undergraduate students and raising a family -- and still takes the time to be my mentor.

Posted:  October 13, 2017