Your Health: Nursing know-how starts at a local level |

Your Health: Nursing know-how starts at a local level

Hundreds of years ago, it was considered a common medical procedure for an ill person to have leeches affixed to their body to drain out any bad blood. As late as the second half of the 19th century, the theory that germs caused disease was dismissed as nonsense.

Every idea that challenged preconceived notions sounds unusual at first, but in a field that's constantly altering, it is key to keep an open mind to fresh thoughts.

The nursing students of Colorado Northwestern Community College got the opportunity to show their medical aptitude earlier this week when they presented their findings about new or less well-known techniques to health professionals at The Memorial Hospital and Yampa Valley Medical Center in a format not unlike a science fair.

Besides being a classroom exercise for them, it also allowed those experienced in the health care world to get a glimpse of new ideas.

"It's hard to stay abreast of every single new thing that's coming in health care, so to have anyone presenting new information is a huge benefit to patient care," TMH Chief Nursing Officer Kim White said.

Presentations in years past have resulted in changes in nursing protocol. For example, a student made a case for using swab caps with IV tubes, which was adopted as a regular practice in how TMH trains its nurses because it was found to be more efficient.

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Among those presenting was Craig resident Justine Hathhorn, whose project posed the question, "What's On Your Stethoscope?"

Hathhorn's exhibit briefly listed the kinds of pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus — which includes many different strains — that could be present on medical equipment, which easily could be sterilized between use with patients, though that's not always common.

"It really made me realize how dirty everything is," she said.

Extensive research and citing of sources is required for each presentation, and students are expected to be able to defend their findings if someone disagrees.

Walt Hutton, who commutes to CNCC from Avon, based his exhibit on data from a Stanford University Medical Center study comparing the use of saline solution compared to tap water to clean patient wounds.

The chemical makeup shows chlorinated water yields similar results in preventing infection and offers medical professionals a chance to save thousands of dollars on supplies.

However, patients are the harder ones to convince, Hutton said.

"It's a personal preference," he said. "If you ask them, most of them would rather have saline because it sounds more professional."

The students, who are on track to graduate from CNCC later this spring, also will move on to the practicum part of the curriculum as they get some real-world experience. Some will work at establishments in Grand Junction or Vernal, Utah, or closer to home.

Jennifer Hoag, of Craig, plans to work at TMH Medical Clinic, specializing in young children, a reflection of her Tuesday presentation that urged delivery room personnel to allow a larger window of time between a baby's birth and the moment they clamp and sever the umbilical cord.

"They're still getting so many nutrients from that even for just those last few minutes," Hoag said.

The option of delaying the clamp of the cord is something that expectant mothers should know about as they make a birth plan, Hoag said, adding that the practice has grown in recent years as studies have shown its benefits, which include providing newborns with improved iron stores and hemoglobin levels.

Kathy Fagan, CNCC nursing instructor, said the idea of the project is to show students who soon will become nurses, as well as more experienced medical professionals, that there always are new developments in medicine.

"One of the things we emphasize is that nursing is always evolving and changing," she said. "It's leading the charge on making practice better."

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or

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