New Jersey’s growing opioid crisis has created knowledge gaps and training challenges for health care professionals.
“Addiction is not just a care issue for nurses working in corrections or drug rehab,” says Rosemary Smentkowski, MSN, RN, PMHNP-BC, CARN, a psychiatric nurse practitioner certified in addiction nursing, and an adjunct professor at Georgian Court and Monmouth Universities. “Regardless of where they work, all nurses are addictions nurses, and we need to prepare them to identify this disease,” she says, noting that this critical area of study is not yet included in many schools’ curricula.
Smentkowski, the only registered nurse on Monmouth County’s Board of Addiction Services, serves as the Board’s representative to the Monmouth ACTS Behavioral Health Hub. There, she found a receptive ally in Freeholder Susan Kiley, who connected her with Jayne Edman, Ed.D., RN, Brookdale Community College’s Dean of Health Sciences.
Working together, the nurses helped launch what Smentkowski calls “a career dream come true” – a Pharmacology for Nurses course required for Brookdale’s first-semester nursing students.
The connection was timely for Edman, who had recently helped Brookdale transition to a concept-based curriculum – a learner-centered approach that focuses more on applying concepts and critical thinking across multiple subject areas, and less on mere memorization of facts.
At Edman’s invitation, Smentkowski spoke at a faculty retreat in Spring 2019. She says, “Rosemary made such an impact on us because this content had previously only been presented in mental health units. We listened and knew we had to move to a pharmacological course required by all nurses.”
Faculty worked throughout the summer to develop course material and simulations. The new content educates students on pain management including both opioid and non-pharmacological approaches. Using integrated screening tools, it helps students effectively recognize early symptoms of substance abuse. Simulations help students gain practice in treating patients with pain or addictions, and in becoming comfortable having sensitive conversations with patients and families about substance abuse.
Requiring the course in students’ first semester, says Edman, allows a new generation of nurses to apply their skills over time as they complete their studies and go into the workforce.
Smentkowski adds, “We’re providing them the information they need on how to have the conversations to determine patients’ needs, on what to do, and where to go to get patients the services they need. I’m confident this training will make a difference in the disease of addiction in New Jersey.”
Edman and Smentkowski take pride in equipping trusted professionals serving on healthcare’s front line. Edman says, “Nurses practice in ERs, schools, communities…They’re often the first person a patient will have a conversation with.”
Edman hopes to accept 100 new students each semester, and has already expanded the program to Brookdale’s respiratory therapy students – at their request. “After speaking with enthusiastic nursing students, the respiratory therapy students said, ‘We’re with these patients, too, and need this information.’”
Smentkowski regards Brookdale a “frontrunner” in nursing addiction education and says that other community colleges should use them as a role model. “Actually, this should be a part of all nursing education, and continuing education for New Jersey’s more than 132,000 licensed registered nurses. We care for patients from cradle to grave and we all need to be educated on addiction treatment, prevention, and education.”
Freeholder Kiley applauds the public-private partnership. “Kudos to Rosemary for sharing her passion and expertise with the Board of Addiction Services and Brookdale. And kudos to Jayne and her team for listening and doing the hard work to bring this much needed course into the curriculum.”
Smentkowski views the partnership as “a perfect example of ‘Live locally, think globally.’ This curriculum is making a difference right here and now as Brookdale-educated nurses go out into the Monmouth County community to improve patient lives. I hope the program’s success will inspire other schools around the world to follow Brookdale’s lead.”