When St. Catherine University Assistant Professor of Nursing Jessica Miehe, DNP’21, MSN, RN, CCRN-K, (pictured, left) decided to pursue her doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree in 2018, she was driven to make a difference. Miehe knew adding a doctorate program to her schedule was going to be challenging, between her responsibilities as a full-time faculty member —including being the clinical coordinator for the post-licensure nursing programs— and a busy home life with three daughters. “I knew that if I was going to get this degree, I had to do something very meaningful to help my community and the world,” says Miehe.
For her DNP project — the program’s final scholarly project, representing the culmination of knowledge acquired in previous DNP coursework and practicum experience — Miehe secured funding through St. Kate’s GHR Legacy Grant to start a free school-based health clinic (SBHC) to serve uninsured and underinsured children. As Miehe states in her GHR grant proposal, “The CDC Health Academic Achievement report states that children who are healthy have higher levels of learning; this directly impacts their academic performance, education behavior, and cognitive skills and attitudes. Ultimately, children who are healthy and have academic success help build strong communities.” The SBHC also serves as a clinical partner with St. Kate’s, offering opportunities for nursing and social work students to get the clinical experience required to complete their degrees.
Miehe worked with her hometown school district of White Bear Lake and started planning for Bear Care Health and Wellness Clinic to open in August 2020, Superintendent of White Bear Lake Area Schools Wayne A. Kazmierczak, PhD, says of the experience, “Throughout the planning and opening of the Bear Care clinic, Miehe and St. Kate’s faculty brought forward innovative, flexible ways to provide healthcare to our students.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Minnesota in early spring 2020, Miehe’s plans quickly changed. Miehe and the White Bear Lake school district decided to open the Bear Care clinic in March 2020 — five months earlier than expected — in order to support the families of the White Bear Lake Area School District during the outset of the pandemic. Miehe and the clinic team offered students and families free in-person and virtual care for acute illnesses — such as ear infections or runny noses — and health assessments. The clinic was especially important for the White Bear Lake community, as many traditional clinics were closed or accepting a fraction of the patients in the spring. Christine Kozelka, an MSN pediatric nurse practitioner student, helped Miehe open Bear Care. “A few families we cared for at the Bear Care Clinic had lost health insurance due to a job loss in the family during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were grateful we were there so their children could be seen by a medical professional,” Kozelka says. “Other patients and families were just thankful to have someone to talk to who was willing to listen and provide support and guidance during this difficult year and all the uncertainty and unrest it has brought with it.”
The Bear Care Health and Wellness Clinic also served as a clinical site to St. Kate’s pediatric nurse practitioner students who would have otherwise been unable to gain clinical experience due to staff restrictions at their original clinical placements around the Twin Cities during the pandemic. As the clinical coordinator for St. Kate’s nurse practitioner program, Miehe offered nursing students placement with the Bear Care nurse practitioners, who served as their preceptors. The experience for these St. Kate’s nursing students was invaluable. As one of these students, Kozelka reflects, “being part of the Bear Care Clinic as a student practitioner was an amazing opportunity and experience that I am so thankful I received and will never forget.”
Bear Care clinic was closed during the school summer break and re-opened in August 2020. As of February, Bear Care has served nearly 300 White Bear Lake Area Schools students. They were able to offer eight days of mobile flu vaccine clinics during the fall — traveling to elementary and middle schools in the district to offer access to more families — and administered 208 vaccines (nursing student Katilyn Taylor MSN-EL'22 pictured above). Additionally, Miehe and the Bear Care clinic have provided over 600 hours of valuable interprofessional clinical rotation for over 20 St. Kate's students in programs such as nurse practitioner, pre-licensure nursing, and social work. As Superintendent Kazmierczak observes, “Miehe and the Bear Care clinical staff provided a needed service to our community during a crucial time in history. The St. Kate’s students bring enthusiasm and a passion for learning that leads by example for our students who are looking to enter a healthcare career pathway.”