Mission Toward Patient Care Takes Flight
Through Nurses SOAR! Program and Classes, Mallinson's Training Reaches Students and Professionals
Kevin Mallinson, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, has spent his life battling fires -- both literally and figuratively.
He moved to Florida at age 21 to try out for the fire department in Key West, received the highest score on the examination and soon after landed a job at a firehouse.
This wasn’t a complete surprise since Mallinson is the grandson of two firefighters who served as fire chiefs in England during World War II. Carrying on that tradition was tempting, but Mallinson eventually realized he wanted to help people in a different way – by fighting HIV/AIDS.
"In the early 1980s, I had a friend die of this new disease that didn’t have a name yet," he explains. "It was rather shocking."
That experience led him to volunteer at the local hospice, where he learned about illness, dying, grief and bereavement -- the very things he finds himself teaching his students about today.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami in 1989, Mallinson began work at a local Florida hospital and then decided to moved to Baltimore.
"I picked a city where I knew no one," he says. "What I wanted to do was get away from people I knew who were dying -- not patients, but my friends and my neighbors. In Baltimore, I didn’t know anyone."
In Baltimore, Mallinson earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing from Johns Hopkins University in 1997 and 2001, respectively. By 2003, he was joining the faculty at Georgetown, where his focus on HIV/AIDS continues to grow.
Today, Mallinson teaches next generation and current nurses how to care for patients with the virus and disease through his Nurses SOAR! program in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Nurses SOAR! (Strengthening Our AIDS Response) allows Mallinson to both train nurses dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, and provide a learning experience to some of Georgetown’s senior nursing majors.
During winter break each year, the nursing department takes several senior nursing majors to Africa as part of its Nursing Care for Vulnerable Populations course. Erin McCaffrey (NHS’08) traveled to South Africa as part of the course and says the trip made a real impact on her educational experience.
“The trip personalized the epidemic,” she says. “It was at times horrible and overwhelming to see young adults and even children dying from the disease. Yet, it was strangely uplifting to see family and community members caring for the sick.”
In addition to his work with that program, Mallinson coordinates the sophomore-level nursing courses that focus on psychosocial health assessment and the fundamentals of nursing skills in patient care. His students develop their skills on the nursing units of the Georgetown University Hospital and local long-term care facilities. He also co-teaches an introductory course on the profession of nursing. Last semester, he taught graduate students in the master’s in nursing education program.
Mallinson’s first travels to Africa led him to Tanzania. At the request of a nurse midwife he knew, the professor packed up his bags to assist in training nursing faculty about HIV/AIDS.
Upon his return to the United States, he applied for a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which focuses on increasing the capabilities of nurses in countries that receive funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
“By that point, I had met quite a number of nurses from sub-Saharan African countries,” he says. “I had listened to their needs and desires for better education, leadership and grief support.”
After receiving a $1.5-million grant in June 2006, Mallinson launched Nurses SOAR! along with Michael Relf, associate professor of nursing; Amanda Liddle, assistant professor of nursing; Irene Jillson, assistant professor of nursing; and John Rosselli, clinical coordinator in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program. Since then, the project has received an additional $1 million in funding from PEPFAR.
Mallinson says the program aims to help more nurses disseminate critical antiretroviral medication. It also educates health-care providers about the epidemiology and physiological makeup of HIV/AIDS, trains nurses in leadership and grief support and incorporates information about the disease into nursing school curricula.
“Kevin is the insightful, creative force who developed the more holistic approach to capacity building that the Nurses SOAR! program takes,” Liddle says. “He is a most valued member of these communities of nurses (in sub-Saharan Africa).”
The Georgetown team is based in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, working at, among other sites, St. Mary’s Hospital.
“When you walk into the outpatient or emergency room area of St. Mary’s Hospital, the number of patients waiting is easily in the dozens,” Mallinson says. “So, they are pouring out of the door and around the corner just waiting to get into the outpatient department. The vast majority is there for HIV-related illness.”
In addition to being overwhelmed by the need for care in the areas hard-hit by HIV/AIDS, nursing student McCaffrey notes that communication also proved to be challenging.
“The predominant language in the hospital where we worked was Zulu, and my Zulu is limited to a couple phrases that are not much help when you’re trying to get medical information out of someone,” she says. “But we all learned to communicate as best as we could without using language -- smiling, holding hands, touching people or holding babies.”
The trip strengthened her resolve to work with underserved populations. “It was interesting to see how a different health-care system with significantly fewer resources than our own deals with such a monumental epidemic,” she says.
The Nurses SOAR! team is now developing articles for scholarly publications that focus on the concept of “building capacity” in health-care workers, the cultural adaptations necessary to make HIV/AIDS training meaningful and effective in the sub-Saharan context and the findings from the first full year of training activities provided by the program.
Mallinson also has been working with Liz Kucharczyk (NHS’09) and colleague Deborah Schiavone, assistant professor of nursing, to publish a review of the literature on grief management strategies for orphans and other vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It’s fascinating to hear him describe his encounters in South Africa,” says Kucharczyk, who began working with Mallinson during the 2007 fall semester. “His dedication and compassion for the project and the work that is being done are contagious. I’m grateful for the amount of time he has spent recounting his experiences to me and other students.”
Mallinson says he’s been taking care of people with HIV/AIDS for 25 years now.
“For me,” he says, “the project is an incredible opportunity to apply what I’ve learned and give back.”
'In the early 1980s, I had a friend die of this new disease that didn’t have a name yet. It was rather shocking.' -- Kevin Mallinson, assistant professor of nursing
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