The inaugural class of nursing students at Colorado Northwestern Community College's Craig campus left the classroom Tuesday to begin its clinical training in local hospitals.
By the end of the first semester, the students will have completed nine full shifts of hands-on work in the hospital, and earned three credits toward their practical nursing degrees.
The 18 students split into two groups. Nine of them attended The Memorial Hospital and nine visited Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs. In the coming weeks, the students will trade places so they all will have experience in both hospitals.
Nursing student Erica Baker said she was "shadowing a nurse," checking vital signs, watching another nurse administer medications, and assessing her patient, who has pneumonia.
Baker was assigned to a patient at The Memorial Hospital. She said the staff has been more than helpful, introducing the students to their eventual careers.
"They're going out of their way to find us when there's a procedure we need to see," Baker said. She sat in on a chest X-ray and other procedures she was curious to learn about.
Baker decided she wanted to be a nurse more than a year before the program was announced. She said she wants to become an OB nurse. She's the mother of five children. Her youngest is two years old.
The full-time nursing curriculum is progressing rapidly.
"All the physical, hands-on skills have already been learned," according to Marilyn Hehr, the program's full-time instructor. "It's a very fast program -- very intense."
"So many (students) have very full lives," Hehr said. "I'm not sure how they're doing this."
"I don't think we are, either," Baker said.
Another student, Shar Craig, was helping a transition-care patient with activities of daily living, or ADL, as it's known to nurses.
Transition care refers to patients requiring a "little longer recovery period," Hehr said. It's often a transition between a hospital and a nursing home.
Craig is a former employee of Valley View Manor. She said she's decided to go into geriatric nursing.
"I worked in a nursing home, so I had some idea what to expect," Craig said of her first clinical experience in a hospital. Still, she admitted she was nervous and afraid of making mistakes.
Craig said she spent quite a bit of time visiting with her patient. Hehr said it's a form of assessment, when nurses view patients and evaluate emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
It's called "showing a presence," Hehr said. And it lies within one of nursing's basic tenets -- "caring." Nursing has become friendlier in recent decades,
The nurses-to-be have learned to perform head-to-toe assessments of patients and monitor vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and temperature. They've learned personal protection skills and wound care techniques, too.
Pharmacology lessons taught the students the basics of how drugs affect the body. Craig said she studied how to calculate IV drip rates and medication dosages based on a patient's body weight.
It hasn't been hard to master the physical skills demanded by nursing, but prioritizing them has been a challenge, Craig said.
"What is slightly more pressing? How do you organize the skills?" Those are the questions Craig is working through at this stage in her career.
In the coming semester, Hehr said the students will learn more about administering medications, and the more specialized nursing disciplines involved in obstetrics, pediatrics and mental health care.
The students will add to their clinical experience next semester, working 17 shifts in hospitals. Hehr said all 18 students have said they will continue their training, enrolling in registered nursing courses when their practical nursing classes are complete.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.