College exploring nursing program

Local healthcare facilities like the Visiting Nurses Association and The Memorial Hospital are feeling the effects of a shortage of 180,000 nurses nationwide, local healthcare officials say.

But that impact could soon be minimized because of a new nursing program that campus officials plan to implement at Colorado Northwestern Community College next year.

"We're in the very beginning stages of this but we are moving forward with it," said Dean Hollenbeck, vice president of the Colorado Northwestern Community College Craig. "We're going to start looking for a coordinator fairly soon. We'd like to have it ready by fall of 2003 but it could happen quicker."

Local health officials say they are excited about getting the new program in Craig, adding that they plan to donate their technology and staff to aid in the education of new nurses.

The history of the hospital's support of the community college in Craig was to hopefully enable the institution to strengthen its healthcare curriculum, said The Memorial Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps.

"We're with them all the way in support," Phelps said.

Phelps said he foresees the college using TMH staff and facilities.

"We'll be all we can be in terms of a training site," he said. "We will have employees providing the hands-on component of training that will be required. We plan on being a fully engaged partner."

Phelps said he thinks the program will definitely increase the number of nurses in Craig by enabling residents interested in becoming a nurse to pursue nursing study.

"It's for people who want a nursing career but can't leave town to get the education," he said.

"By doing this locally, people can take classes in the morning and work or stay home with the kids in the afternoon."

Right now the two nearest nursing colleges are at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs and Mesa State College in Grand Junction.

Phelps said he sees two main pools of people that will be drawn from for the program.

Many candidates, he said, are already on staff as nursing volunteers at TMH.

He said they also want to develop the traditional students who, straight out of high school, want to go into training for a nursing career.

Phelps said agreements could be worked out to where students can get financial support for education if they agree to work locally after graduation from the nursing college at CNCC.

This financial support would be in addition to free tuition already provided to Moffat County residents at CNCC.

Marilyn Bouldin, director of community care at the Visiting Nurses Association, said the new program would benefit the V.N.A.

"It will definitely give us a bigger employee pool from which to draw," Bouldin said.

Bouldin said there is room in the budget for more nurses at the V.N.A., there are just no candidates to fill the jobs.

The number of trained nurses is not going to increase soon, she said. It might actually get worse.

"We're aging, too," she said. "The average age of a registered nurse in the United States is 45. It's 47

in Colorado."

Northwest Colorado has the lowest ratio of nurses per person in Colorado, Bouldin said.

There is also a need for more diversity in the nursing field, which the program could assist in, Bouldin said.

"We've been trying to hire a bilingual nurse," she said. "Instead we have had to hire interpreters."

Bouldin said the V.N.A. would also be available for students to get necessary clinical experience.

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