Spring break trips are a rite of passage for many college students. But when alcohol-fueled undergraduates descend upon popular party destinations such as Daytona Beach, South Padre Island, and Panama City Beach, they can leave a path of destruction in their wake. In addition to litter-covered beaches and trashed hotel rooms, these students’ antics often result in an influx of patients at local healthcare facilities.

It’s important to remember that spring breakers are an interesting demographic. Age 18 to 25 is the emerging adulthood transition phase, and it is a tenuous time. As these emerging adults struggle to figure out who they are, they tend to engage in risky behaviors.

Here are some key considerations as we enter spring break season:

Young Adults Engage in Risky Behaviors

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly half of all college students binge drink. Binge drinking can lead to a host of dangerous situations, ranging from alcohol poisoning to a bevy of unintentional injuries. Each year, college students sustain nearly 600,000 accidental injuries while under the influence of alcohol.

Spring break poses another unique situation. Students come from schools – and hometowns – all over the country, so nurses must take into consideration the social determinants of health when treating these young patients. Nursing family assessments — socio-economic status, race and sexual orientation – all come into play when treating these students.

ER Nurses Lean on Clinical Judgement

Emergency department (ED) nurses are well prepared to treat these young adults.

When a patient comes into the ED, nurses must focus on the prioritization of care. Their first priority is to take care of their airway, breathing, circulation and treat their injuries – like breaking a leg trying to jump from the hotel balcony. This can be complicated if these young vacationers arrive unconscious or highly intoxicated, are left alone by friends too afraid to stay, or arrive without health insurance information or a legitimate ID.

Once patients are stabilized, nurses must then use their clinical judgement to consider other important factors – Should they call the parents? Are there sexual partners that must be notified, or does a sexual assault need to be reported? Do police reports need to be completed?

Community Nurses Coordinate Follow Up Care

Hospital discharge brings with it a new set of unique circumstances. Students may need schedule a surgery or set up follow up care at school, fill prescriptions, or secure medical equipment such as braces or crutches. Who will care for the student if they develop an infection and need to seek care?

These tasks impact not just the emergency room nurse, but also community nurses as well. In many cases, community nurses will be the healthcare professionals taking care of students once they return to campus. These campus nurses will need to use teamwork and collaboration to treat the student by coordinating with the treating facility and physician, assessing next steps using patient safety quality indicators to organize any follow up care. In some cases, the community nurse may need to schedule telehealth appointments with the referring physician for follow up.

I often say community nurses are the unsung heroes of our profession – their role providing care to students while educating them on the importance of healthy habits is paramount to a thriving campus population.

Preparation is Key

For most college students, spring break is a week of sun and fun, but when alcohol, or other substances, enter the mix risky behaviors can result in serious injuries. Emergency department nurses and community health nurses must be prepared to care for physical injuries while assessing external factors that could impact care, coordinate with multiple facilities across the country (or internationally) and determine the best course of care once the student returns to school.

Sentinel U® can help ensure our ER nurses and community nurses are equipped with the tools they need to prepare for spring break confidently and compassionately. Our Prioritization of Care® and Patient Management and Delegation® can help nurses better assess and treat patients, while our Interprofessional Teams® modules can help nurses identify resources and team members to ensure care that is patient centered.

If you are interested in refreshing your skills ahead of spring break, our nursing simulations can help. Contact us today to request your demo.