Compassion Intensive

by Gabriella Corrigan

Horizon Reporter

When a patient lies in a hospital bed, an IV dangling from their arm, awaiting surgery, their decision to bolt from the bed or lie there calmly can rely on the bedside manner of a nurse.

That’s why students in Whatcom Community College’s nursing program focus on “being more compassionate with patients,” as one nursing student told her class she had learned from the class’s HIV/AIDS presentations.

Whatcom’s two-year nursing program, started in 2005, is offered online or face-to-face, and teaches students how to be hands on, using the “process of learning by experience and a little critical thinking,” said Kathryn Saulsbury, a Whatcom nursing faculty member.

Prior to the associate nursing program, Whatcom had a bridge program with the hospice in Skagit Valley, but it “changed because of the need for nurses,” said Annette Flanders, Whatcom’s nursing program director, making the program an important aspect of the college and medical profession.

“Nursing jobs are tight right now because of the economic downturn, but it is inevitable that it is going to open up,” she said. “We absolutely need every single program that we can possibly produce.”

For Whatcom’s 2012 nursing class, it was 23 days until graduation when they gave their HIV/AIDS presentations. The hum of laughter and chatting in the room before class showed that the nursing program had achieved its demands for camaraderie and teamwork.

“Over two years, you just become so close with your classmates, and we have gotten so much support from our teachers,” said Megan Cahill, 26, who is graduating with the 2012 nursing class.

Once the 30 students are admitted to the face-to-face nursing program, they are required to work together as a team, said Flanders.

“In order to stay current in the professional world, nurses have to read 17 journal articles a day,” she said. That is why they need to know how to work together and share their knowledge with each other.

Whatcom’s focus on teamwork has helped it achieve its high retention rates. “If you think it is hard to get in, it is even harder to get out,” said Flanders. Having a supportive team helps keep retention rates high, she added.

Caitlin Dowdle, 26, a 2012 Whatcom nursing graduate, said that over the two years, students have become more mature and comfortable working in medical situations.

“In first year, we were all clumsy and scattered brained, but in second year, we have just grown so much,” Dowdle said. It “has been more application of our skills.”

As a program that is nationally recognized, Flanders said one of the most important ways the program proves its excellence is by how many of its students pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

In the six classes that have graduated from the nursing program, two of the classes had 92 percent of the students pass and the rest of the classes had above 80 percent, said Flanders who described the pass rates as “excellent and above the national average.”

As groups of students present their HIV/AIDS research, medical jokes are cracked and on frequent occasions laughter breaks the concentrated silence. Students also openly pitch in their ideas and ask questions eagerly.

“You have to remember you are treating a person, not a HIV patient, a person,” says Saulsbury to her class.

She says that nurses need to have more of an understanding of what patients are going through emotionally. “I hope your generation gets out of the idea of better living by chemistry that many previous generations have lived by,” she says.

It is a lecture day, so the nursing students don’t sport their maroon scrubs and stethoscopes but instead, wear their Whatcom nursing jackets, t-shirts, or sweatshirts.

Most nursing students’ time is spent off campus at health care sites getting real life experience. In the first year of the program, they do hands-on work at nursing homes. In second year, they do 120 hours of one-on-one preceptorship, shadowing a nurse at different local health care institutions like St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“I enjoyed it,” said Dowdle. “I am really glad I got in with this group of people. This group is my family. We don’t leave anyone hanging.”

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