Nursing program overhauled

Melissa Kernen has been waiting for 18 months to join the nursing program at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig.

Kernen is No. 22 on the 39-person waiting list for the rapidly growing program.

The 27-year-old mother of two earned a business degree from CNCC in the late 1990s but later decided she wanted to be a nurse.

Most of her general education requirements and prerequisites were complete from her time as a business student, so Kernen didn't have much coursework to complete before she qualified for the nursing program.

But recent changes to the nursing program curriculum mean Kernen has some more work to do before she gets off the waiting list.

The changes -- which take effect this fall -- include a new registration process, new prerequisites and a new entrance exam.

Students already enrolled in the nursing program will not be affected by the changes.

CNCC nursing program director Marilyn Bouldin said the changes are part of a plan to make all 11 nursing programs at Colorado community colleges the same.

"I think it's going to be good for us," Bouldin said.

One of the biggest changes is a new prerequisite course for students in the associate degree program.

Students now have to take a four-credit microbiology course. The course includes laboratory work, which Bouldin said will cost extra, but the cost hasn't been determined yet.

Microbiology will be offered at the Craig campus for the first time this fall.

Wendy Palmeter, the laboratory manager at The Memorial Hospital, will teach the course, which is specifically designed for health science majors.

She said the course will give nursing students "practical laboratory experience," including experience with identifying and controlling infections.

"We need nurses who are infection control nurses," Palmeter said.

Palmeter said she hopes the laboratory experience shows nursing students the variety of fields a nurse can enter.

The registration process for the nursing program also will change.

Nursing students now have to register online through the Colorado Community College System in Denver, instead of registering at the Craig campus.

Bouldin said CCCS hopes to have waiting list numbers available online soon.

Nursing students will be required to take a general skills exam to enter the program.

Bouldin said the exam will test reading, math and science skills and also will test learning styles, social skills and how prospective nurses handle stress.

"The program can be very, very stressful and very intense," Bouldin said, so the test will make sure students can handle it.

Kernen said taking the test won't present a problem for her.

"I handle stress pretty well," she said.

Bouldin said failing the test won't necessarily mean students are ineligible for the program.

"We're certainly going to give students an opportunity to re-test," Bouldin said, but college officials haven't determined how many times students will be allowed to test.

CNCC made criminal background checks a requirement last year.

"That's been driven by the hospitals," Bouldin said.

Bouldin said hospital employees have to have background checks, so they want student nurses to have them also.

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