Course emphasizes tough realities and teamwork between students.
By Katauna Loeuy
The rigorous and demanding Nursing Program at Whatcom Community College provides a close-knit community to help students discover their true selves through many challenging and rewarding experiences.
“Whatcom really wooed me with how inclusive, welcoming and just the supporting learning environment,” said nursing student Kayla Elmore. “I have felt so empowered as a student…I don’t know if that’s necessarily the experience that I would have with other schools.”
Whatcom’s Nursing Program is competitive because many people apply, but only 30 new students are accepted each year. Whatcom students earn an Associate in Nursing degree which makes them eligible to take the Registered Nurse licensing exam.
Bellingham Technical College’s nursing program is on a first-come, first-served basis once certain requirements are met.
Western Washington University’s program is open to students who have received their RN license and want to continue their education.
“[Whatcom] is a smaller program which I think is excellent for a lot of students because they can have that personal relationship with their instructors,” said instructor, Joshua Bedient. “That way they don’t just feel like a number in a crowd, but they are an actual individual within the program.”
Prior to entering the program, students must satisfy two years of prerequisites. The prerequisites are chosen for the type of work the students will integrate in the nursing program.
Nursing Program Assistant Shannon Dunn is available to help students meet the requirements “because there’s a lot of requirements—immunizations, CPR certification—those types of things. I’m just here to help in any way that I can.”
Because the program is based in the Health Professions Education Center off the Cordata Parkway on the north end of campus, Dunn said nursing students might feel isolated from other students and the campus community.
“I think that sometimes being off campus, we feel a little disconnected,” she said. “Maybe some of the services aren’t quite focused in our area and that can be challenging.”
On the plus side, the staff and faculty can develop closer connections with students at the facility, which was completed in 2013.
“The instructors are really invested in student success,” Dunn said. “That is very beneficial to students because if they can articulate their needs, then instructors can do everything they can to provide them support throughout the program.”
The program is also evolving and the curriculum is constantly updating, with student input as a priority.
“We’re constantly working on it,” Dunn said. “We do a lot of surveying of the students and we really take into consideration how the program has worked for them. We consider their opinions to be valuable and when they have concerns, we address them.”
Similar to other fields, there’s a variety of reasons why every student chooses a specific path of life, including nursing students.
“I want to make a difference,” said nursing student Kevin Linsley. “Ever since I was a little youngster, anytime I had an experience with a nurse, they were something higher up, there was something to be respected. They were making a difference in not just my life, but in other people’s lives on a daily basis and I really wanted that.”
With the hard work and diligence of pursuing a nursing degree, comes various challenges. Students say personal matters may interfere and they often struggled with managing the stress of their nursing courses on top of issues that life throws in their way.
“Life doesn’t stop,” said nursing student Danae Johnson. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen and you’ve got to muscle through, and I think that nursing students overall are kind of a stout bunch and it’s a rigorous program academically, but then you also have to face demons along the way.”
Linsley agrees. The nursing student life can be all-encompassing.
“Nursing school, when you get into it, that is your life, that’s it,” he said. “I remember being in the lab from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and you still have to maintain relationships. I have a wife and friends and things that I also need to attend to and finding the balance between that has been a real challenge. Thankfully I have been supported by my family.”
Some of the issues that arise may be outside the classroom with family and friends, but there are also issues nursing students must deal with inside the classroom.
“There’s content in the nursing program that may bring up some tough stuff for people and you can’t ignore that,” Johnson said. “So, I think it’s tough for everyone with the rigor and then the emotional side of it that we have to work through.”
Johnson says the Whatcom program keeps students focused and feeling supported.
“I think that is what makes it special,” she said. “They really deeply care about us as students and I think that you feel that.”
Aaron Brandt came to the Nursing Program later in life after being a caregiver for an elderly man for 12 years. He said he wanted to become a nurse and continue his education but he had his fears.
“The biggest challenge that I’ve faced was a lot about my own identity and comparing myself to other people because so many people in this program are quality individuals and they are very, very good academically,” he said. “It’s difficult to manage your life in the midst of nursing school [but] once you’re in the program, they really care about you as people.”
Linsley says he comes “from a different background and not the best past,” but it didn’t matter because he said the goal is the same.
“If I’m going to be a nurse and learn how to be a nurse, then I want to learn from the best,” he said. “I want to have high standards. I want to be able to learn everything I can, the best way that I can.”
He credits the community feel of Whatcom’s program for helping him gain perspective and feel supported by not only his peers but faculty as well.
“We got here for a reason, but we need the people around us to help us finish the race.”