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Real-world scenarios, tough lessons

April 21, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Instructors strive to teach nursing students what they need to know when they leave school and find themselves in hospital settings, according to those charged with educating future nurses.

One complaint that hospitals level against nursing schools is that new graduates cannot handle multiple patients, said Karen Hammond, sophomore nursing coordinator at Hagerstown Community College.

"Teaching what they need to know in the real world is the hardest," Hammond said. "A clinical setting can ... bring a lot of real-life scenarios to the table."

At Hagerstown Community College, sophomore nursing students are required to spend 11 hours a week at Washington County Hospital to obtain training in a clinical setting, Hammond said.

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Before the training is completed, each student works with four patients at a time. The hands-on training is a vital part of a student's education, she said.

Judy Breitenbach, nursing program director at the Towson University campus of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, agreed, saying nursing students at Towson receive a total of about 775 hours of clinical study over four semesters.

"The clinical setting enhances what is learned in the classroom," she said. "It provides students with the hands-on experience needed to fully comprehend that information and apply it to real-life situations."

At the Towson branch in Hagerstown, each instructor is responsible for four to eight students in a clinical setting, Breitenbach said. Students start by taking care of one patient at the beginning of the semester and progress to caring for more patients.

And it's all about learning, she said.

"Students and clinical instructors are not in the clinical setting to supplement staffing shortages," she said. "Students are there to learn to become safe, effective practitioners under the direct supervision and instruction of the nursing faculty."

Breitenbach said nurses play a vital role in the hospital setting, and education is critical because they must have almost as much knowledge as doctors. For instance, she said, if a physician writes an incorrect medication order, the nurse should be able to realize the mistake, she said.

"If a student is not willing to commit 150 percent to their training, then they should consider some other professional goal," Breitenbach said. "It is not about the hours per week they should study, it is about the commitment they are making to every patient they will care for."

Entering the field

Kevin Skrabak, a licensed practical nurse, said he was a schoolteacher for several years before he joined the nursing profession. He said he left teaching, in part, to earn more money.

Skrabak said he now works full time at Winchester (Va.) Medical Center and returned to nursing school at Hagerstown Community College because he wants to become a registered nurse.

As an RN, Skrabak will be able to take on greater responsibility and will earn about $7 an hour more than he does as a licensed practical nurse, he said.

Mary Towe, vice president and chief nursing officer at Washington County Hospital, said nurses right out of college make about $45,000 a year. That salary typically jumps $10,000 after three years, she said.

Christopher Thomas said he originally studied athletic training in college, but changed his major to nursing because the job market for trainers was slow.

"I was looking for something that was a little more reliable," Thomas said. "I chose nursing and it fit well."

Skrabak and Thomas are to graduate from HCC on May 17 and then will take the National Council Licensure Examination to become licensed.

Carolyn Albright, director of health sciences and nursing at HCC, said graduates may apply for reciprocity in other states after they pass the test. Roughly nine out of 10 HCC graduates pass the national boards, she said.

Unlike college graduates in other fields who might struggle to find jobs, 100 percent of nurses can find employment, Albright said.

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