Nurses graduate CNCC |

Nurses graduate CNCC

Program's first students learned to be flexible

For Erica Baker, becoming a nurse meant moving herself, her husband and her five children temporarily to Rock Springs.

She was still figuring out how to do that for the two years it would take to become a registered nurse when she heard

Colo–rado North-

—-western Com–munity College-Craig was investigating whether to start a program.

So the 29-year-old stay-at-home mother held her breath and waited, constantly contacting committee members to gauge progress.

And when the program launched in August 2003, Baker was one of the first on the list.

“It takes determination, I suppose. It was something I really, really wanted for a long time,” she said.

Today, Baker will get exactly what she wanted. She’ll be pinned as an RN along with 16 other students — the first graduating class of CNCC’s nursing program.

“It will be pretty emotional,” Program Director Marilyn Bouldin said.

For Bouldin, the ceremony will be proof that the years of work she and several others have put into creating the program have paid off.

Bouldin was part of an advisory committee formed six years ago to explore the feasibility — and need — of a nursing program in Craig.

Determining need was easy. The entire country was already in the midst of a nursing shortage that experts said was nowhere near ending. Every health care business in Craig was feeling the pinch.

Making the program feasible, though, was the challenge. Bouldin credits CNCC Vice President Dean Hollenbeck with having the vision to set the committee in motion and eventually creating the program.

Interest was high. More than 30 residents of Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties attended the committee meeting.

“Right away, that said a lot about the need,” Bouldin said.

The need was such that the college hired a nursing consultant to work with the committee. Bouldin was its chairwoman.

When the college advertised for a nursing program director, Bouldin realized she was qualified and excited about the challenge of creating a new program.

She was hired in January 2003 and worked closely with the state board of nursing to develop a program.

Eight months later, Marilyn Hehr was hired to help coordinate the first-year program — practical nursing — and teach the first-year students.

Now, the program boasts seven faculty members, four of which are full time.

In its first year, the program had 33 applications for 18 slots.

“We told them they were pioneers or sometimes we told them they were guinea pigs. Our motto was ‘nothing is set in stone,'” Bouldin said.

In fact, instructors said those words so often that the first class gifted Hehr a stone on which was etched the words, “Nothing is set in stone.”

“What we’ve found is there’s always some new challenge,” Bouldin said. “We were flying by the seat of our pants because we hadn’t done this before. We were kind of making it up as we went along.”

One of the biggest challenges is finding nurses with master’s degrees to teach.

“There aren’t many around here and the ones we have are making twice as much working in a hospital setting,” Bouldin said.

Choosing a curriculum was another challenge that organizers say was hard on the eyes as they read through dozens of recommended textbooks.

But it’s been worth it, Bouldin said.

The program was instantly popular. Bouldin received calls every day requesting information.

“People are starting to realize it’s a very good profession,” Bouldin said. “It’s rewarding and financially viable. There are lots of long-term residents enrolling who always wanted to go to nursing school, but couldn’t.

Baker was one of those. She had already taken her prerequisites — some online — and then wasn’t sure what to do.

Her husband has a good paying job and her five children area all under age 10.

Nursing isn’t something you can learn online — it requires a substantial amount of hands-on experience. Her options were to give up her dream or figure out a way do get her degree in Rock Springs.

“This is a dream come true,” she said.

There is little question that the program has been successful. One hundred percent of the first class of LPNs — the current graduating RNs — passed their state exam last year.

And more want to take it. There are more than 30 names on a waiting list to get into the program. Luckily, the program is being expanded next year to accommodate 22 students.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or

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