Nursing students organize clothing drive for discharged hospital patients

An unhoused man is brought into the trauma ward of a local hospital with a gunshot wound. Paramedics cut his clothes off so he can receive medical care. After intensive surgeries and multiple grueling weeks of recovery, he’s reached a major milestone: discharge from the hospital.

However, he now has no clothes. The shirt and pants that paramedics removed were the only ones he owned, so he walks out of the lobby into a cold, Milwaukee winter wearing only a hospital gown.

Marquette College of Nursing graduate students Emily Kilmer, Jillian Shirilla, Kayla Sallinger and Jillene Saler wanted to do something to address this situation, which happens frequently in hospitals across the country. The four nurses, who are all part of the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program, decided to hold a clothing drive for five hospitals in the Milwaukee area.

“This university is dedicated to a mission of community service and our program really didn’t have a [service] project until now,” Kilmer says.

“I think it’s so important for students to give back and be engaged,” says Dr. Debra Casper, program director. “It’s hard to do this in graduate school with course work, family life, and work responsibilities. My goal was to help them engage with the community and do something in their last semester of the program with Marquette. This specific project was a way to give back to people in our community and to the health care organizations that welcomed our AGACNP students and helped with their training.”

The four students posted boxes all over Clark Hall asking for almost any kind of casual clothes: coats, shoes, sweaters, sweatshirts, underwear, socks, bras and shirts, just to name a few. Pants with elastic waists are in particularly high-demand — the larger the size, the better. Clothes can be new or lightly used; students have until April 19 to donate.

All of the clothing drive’s organizers have deep healthcare experience. Saler, a southeast Wisconsin native who completed her undergraduate degree at UW-Milwaukee, has spent almost eight years as a critical care nurse and has personally experienced the necessity of this work.

“If you have someone who came in really ill, they might have soiled their clothes and those clothes might not be salvageable,” Saler says. “We want to make sure that we’re maintaining a patient’s dignity. When they’re getting ready to go home, it breaks your heart to say, ‘Well, here’s a gown, have a good day.’ It’s about giving back to the hospitals that take time to train us and to the patients that we provide for.”

“A few of us have had trauma surgery rotations where we can see firsthand how this is really important,” Shirilla says.

Faculty, staff and students from the college have responded with ample generosity, enough to overflow several boxes.

“The college reached out to tell us that the boxes were overflowing and that we need to move the donations because they’re piling up,” Saler says. “That was great to hear because we weren’t really sure what kind of response we would get. We worried about not having enough for the five hospitals that we were collecting for, and it turns out that concern was unnecessary.”

Marquette’s master’s in nursing program is highly regarded, ranking 61st on the 2023 U.S. News and World Report list. Its combination of strong academics and mission-driven practice convinced several of the students organizing the clothing drive to sign up. Kilmer, who went to a Seventh-day Adventist college in Nebraska before coming to Milwaukee, appreciates how Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit values inform its nursing college.

“I think the faith-based community works with nursing really well,” Kilmer says. “I had always heard about Marquette, and I really liked the faith aspect.”

“Since I was born and raised in Milwaukee, I was very familiar with Marquette and really liked their mission,” Saler says. “It was an easy choice for me when I decided to advance to graduate school.”

The organizers of the clothing drive are approaching their last month in Clark Hall and will soon graduate. However, their community service initiative will persist long after they walk across the stage. Casper says that a project of some kind will be written into the AGPCNP curriculum in the future for students concluding their clinical rotations.

“All these hospitals have graciously taken students into their hospitals for training. They have needs and we are in a position as acute care nurse practitioners to try and fill those needs, whether that’s a clothing drive or something else,” Casper says.

Whether bedside with a patient or collecting the material aid they’ll need to leave that bed, the Marquette Nurse never stops being an advocate for the vulnerable.