A year ago, prospective nursing students were checking their mailboxes to see whether they had been accepted to Craig's first college nursing program.
On Friday, the 17 graduates of Colorado Northwestern Community College's practical nursing course celebrated their accomplishment during the profession's rite of passage: the "pinning" ceremony.
Each student picked a friend or family member to attach the lapel pins to their clothes, on the left side of the chest, close to the heart.
Many of the students asked their instructor, Marilyn Hehr, to do the honor.
The program's director and one of the original visionaries, Marilyn Bouldin, said it was a show of support for the popular teacher.
Other students picked spouses, children and friends to pin them.
Hehr and Bouldin were wearing the pins they received from nursing school at the dawn of their careers. Nurses wear their school pins throughout their careers, Bouldin said.
The pin, which will continue to be the program's emblem in future years, was designed by a committee of students, Bouldin said. It is black and gold with a "Nightingale lamp" and columbine flowers.
The event was a celebration not just for the students, but for Hehr and Bouldin, and CNCC as well.
The program grew out of a realization about the national, and even international, nursing shortage.
"In fact," Bouldin said, "people are not calling it a shortage, but a crisis."
It's particularly evident locally, Bouldin said.
"Northwest Colorado has the fewest nurses per capita of any region in the state," Bouldin said there is a constant need for nurses, which translates into immediate job opportunities for those who complete their training.
CNCC's Chief Administrative Officer, Dean Hollenbeck, said Bouldin created a program that is being talked about across the state.
Ten months ago, on Aug. 25, the students embarked. Bouldin said she and Hehr tried to instill in the students a value system that will ensure patients receive the highest quality of care.
"It's a whole lot more than a job. It's a whole lot more than a career," Bouldin told the students. "You're committing yourselves to a way of life."
She asked the students to remember three things.
• To honor their profession;
• To take time to care for themselves, despite their busy lives that will be spent caring for others;
• To continue learning.
Bouldin said she was happy all the students will be returning in the fall to take the further step in their careers to become registered nurses.
Hehr praised the students' eagerness to learn. She spoke of the thousands of medications her pupils had to learn about during their section on pharmacology.
One day, Hehr assigned the students to go to The Memorial Hospital and recite the action, dosage, route, peak action time, and other key aspects about every medication that was being administered to every patient at TMH.
The task seemed daunting, Hehr said.
But the students had been so diligent about their pharmacology studies that they soon found they already knew about all but seven or eight of the drugs. Those, they looked up and refreshed their memories, Hehr said.
But the classes and the 4,000-some pages of textbook material were second to the ethic of care, Hehr said.
"That is the part the client remembers," Hehr said.
She tried to start a classroom debate about patients' rights and "quality health care for all," only to find that no one wanted to oppose the ideas.
Bouldin said the program should be a long-term offering at the local college.
Already there are 38 people on the waiting list for the classes beginning in the fall.
Eighteen students will be accepted.