The health concerns facing Delores Baxter likely went beyond her heart-failure symptoms. As an 82-year-old African-American woman living in a city, she might have had trouble finding transportation to her nurse-practitioner appointments. Or perhaps her diet had been compromised by scant access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Thanks in part to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Nursing Initiative, students at the School of Nursing, in Newark and New Brunswick, are being trained to consider those extra, but not insignificant, circumstances for Delores, a simulated patient played by a Rutgers faculty member.

Targeted-population health care represents a crucial change in how nursing is taught, says Ann Marie P. Mauro (standing), professor, assistant dean, and director of the Center for Educational Research and Innovation at the school, and Debora L. Tracey SN’99,’07, assistant professor and director of the Center for Clinical Learning, which is affiliated with the center.

By participating in simulations and viewing short films that track the progress of patient-actors like Delores, students learn to recognize health symptoms shared by certain groups of people—and the factors contributing to them.

“This initiative will prepare future nurses to better serve not only individuals, but also entire populations in New Jersey,” Mauro says. “We’ll all get a better sense of how social determinants and inequities can impact health.”            

— Tammy La Gorce