Duquesne University School of Nursing Hosts Symposium on Homelessness

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Duquesne University School of Nursing will host its 10th annual McGinley-Rice Symposium on Justice for Vulnerable Populations, a unique scholarly forum for health care professionals to address social justice issues in health care, on Oct. 17-18, 2019. 

Organized by Sr. Rosemary Donley, PhD, APRN, FAAN, professor of nursing and the Jacques Laval Endowed Chair in Justice for Vulnerable Populations at Duquesne University, this year’s symposium will look at The Face of the Person Who is Homeless. The two-day symposium will feature lectures, panel discussions, and dialogue sessions with clinicians, researchers, educators, and advocates working with persons who are experiencing homelessness. 

Sr. Donley hopes that the symposium will educate attendees about the homeless plight in this country, awaken awareness and stimulate action on behalf of justice. “It’s difficult to change attitudes,” she says. “But the people who typically come to our symposium are open to being changed. They already know and understand the population, so we want to give them a toolbox for some of the things they can do as well as some people they can call.” 

A Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Sr. Donley, who also teaches graduate seminars in health policy and social justice and works with family nurse practitioner faculty and students,  spearheads the McGinley-Rice Symposium on Social Justice for Vulnerable Populations. These national symposia, The Face of the ElderlyThe Face of the ImmigrantThe Face of the VeteranThe Face of the Child, The Face of the Person with Mental Illness, The Face of the Person who has Experienced Violence, The Face of the Person with an Addiction, and The Face of the Person who has been Trafficked awaken awareness and stimulate action on behalf of justice.

Sr. Donley recalls one attendee of the The Face of the Child symposium, an elementary school teacher, who came up to her afterwards. She told her she had these children in her classroom and knew something was wrong but she didn’t know what to do. 

“It’s not as though we have given them an emergency number, like 9-1-1, to call,” says Sr. Donley. “We’re giving them contacts and organizations who can really help. As a result, our attendees may be less hesitant to call. We want attendees to know that they do not have to solve everything themselves. There are wonderful coalitions throughout the country and city who can help.”

During the symposium each year, the Eileen Zungolo Spirit of Service Award award is given to a person whose life symbolizes and represents the mission of the McGinley-Rice Symposium.  The award is named for the Duquesne University School of Nursing former Dean, Eileen Zungolo, who wrote the grant that brought Sr. Donley to Duquesne and established the symposia. This year, the recipient is Dr. James S. Withers, MD, FACP, founder and medical director of Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net. Dr. Withers was raised in rural Pennsylvania, where he made house calls with his late father, Dr. Donald Withers, a family physician and delivered meals alongside his mother, June, a retired registered nurse.

He earned his undergraduate degree at Haverford College and his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1984. His interest in service-oriented medicine grew through medical mission trips with his family to Central America and India. In 2005, Dr. Withers and Operation Safety Net established the International Street Medicine Symposium to foster international collaboration and share best practices in the care of people experiencing homelessness. In 2008, with help from Pittsburgh Mercy, Dr. Withers created the Street Medicine Institute to help other communities establish street medicine programs, improve existing practice, and create student learning opportunities in street medicine. They currently have partners in cities on six continents.

Overall, the support for the symposium has been wonderful, notes Sr. Donley. 

“Not only have we had great financial support over the past ten years, but more than that, we have real interest in what can we do in Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh to make things better for vulnerable people,” she says. “You can’t help anybody and you can’t solve a problem unless you know it exists. So one of the major purposes of McGinley-Rice is to inform people not only about the fact that this problem actually exists in your hometown — maybe even next door to you, but you can do something about it. And even if you can’t think of anything to do, you can at least show respect for the person who is vulnerable.”

The McGinley-Rice Symposium is an expression of the mission of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic missionary order that founded Duquesne and assists needy and marginalized persons throughout the world. For more information and a list of this year’s panels and speakers, visit www.duq.edu/social-justice.