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USUE nursing program connects community to training opportunities



By Kristen Daniel
Contributing Writer

As Utah State University’s Nursing Program recently completed another step in maintaining its national accreditation, the faculty of the USUE campus in Price have embraced the advantages of training students in a rural setting and built a collaborative teaching and training model that not only includes the surrounding community of health providers, but utilizes them and gives them ownership of the program’s success.
This collaborative and inclusive approach has created a symbiotic relationship with the community and transformed a rural setting into the rare opportunity for students looking for a hands-on, relevant nursing education that will best prepare them for a real-world career. Between 93 and 98 percent of the program’s graduates passed the State Board Exam the last two years.
USUE Nursing Program Coordinator Laura Dotson, also a full-time instructor, said the students at USUE benefit greatly from the smaller community in several ways including the lower cost of living, ease of transportation, a smaller more personal education with instructors that know each student by name, and a wide variety of clinical opportunities in a health community that welcomes the students.
“The community is very supportive and involved in our program. The health care providers work with us to ensure the students have a wealth of practice and training,” Dotson said. “Unlike programs in larger areas, our students have no trouble not only completing all the areas of their clinicals, but also are able to actually use their skills and explore what areas of health care they eventually want to work in.”
To take full advantage of the relationships in the community, the nursing program faculty meets with an Industry Advisory Council each year during which the community of health care providers offer feedback to the program. The council weighs in on how well the nurses are prepared, if there are aspects of their training or knowledge that is lacking, and to ensure the nurses skills meet industry needs. The Council also receives feedback on how they can best help the nurses, and how to make their clinicals as effective and productive as possible.
Dotson said they make every effort to continually change, grow, and tweak their program to ensure the greatest success for their students. The program offers both a Certificate for Practical Nurse and an Associate in Applied Science – Registered Nurse, degree. It uses state of the art simulation labs, and student-centered teaching models, in addition to the collaborative approach with the local health care providers to provide students and the community with the highest quality training and health care.
Grant Barraclough, chief nursing officer at Castleview Hospital, said the small community and collaborative model adopted by the staff affords him consistent access and feedback with the instructors, which helps his staff better not only collectively but also to train each individual student. He also cites studies that predict massive nursing shortages by 2020, and stated that he has a personal and professional stake in seeing that these nurses are well-trained and prepared to offer care for patients.
“We are going to need highly-trained nurses to work here, so we do everything we can as a hospital to help the students succeed,” he said. “We genuinely care about these students and we want them succeed because they will be our nurse someday to care for us and our family members, and so it is important to us, and we are invested in their education.”
Barraclough said the nursing students get a great deal of exposure and cross-training at Castleview because in a smaller area all the nurses must treat a great variety of patients that would go to specialized departments or facilities in a larger city. He added that the USUE faculty has done a fantastic job training the students and including the health care community in their program.
“We think that the nursing program here puts out some of the best nursing students in Utah. We have worked with a lot of schools and hired students from many colleges, and a lot of online colleges,” he said. “And we can honestly say that we love the nursing students that come out of USUE, we love working with the school, and we are extremely proud of them and glad they are in our Community.”
Charge Nurse at the Emery Medical Center, Kaylene Behling, is an alumnus of the USUE program. She initially graduated with a PN and later returned to school to complete her RN. Behling said the USUE students are well prepared for their clinicals, and she and her staff work to help them as well.
“This [the Emery Medical Center} was my favorite clinical when I was in school, then it became a great career that I love,” she said. “So it is my goal to make this the favorite clinical for the students.”
Behling said the clinic offers an unpredictable and wide range of medical maladies and emergencies from broken bones and hunting accidents, to pediatrics, labor and delivery. She and her staff make it their goal to train the students and allow them the most nursing experience and to let them perform as many nursing tasks as are possible within their scope of practice, she said.
“Hands-on learning is the best learning in my eyes. You can read for hours in a book, but when you have hands-on experiences that is when you really become skilled, and prepared as a nurse,” Behling said. “We see everything here from new born through geriatric care and we include the nursing students in all we do.”
Second Year Nursing Student, Shalee Bennett, Orangeville, is pursuing her RN degree and also loves working at the Emery Medical Clinic. She said the variety and quality of the clinical settings gives the students a broad spectrum of training, and that she and other students benefit greatly from the smaller setting of USUE and a very supportive community.
“I like the smaller classrooms setting compared to nursing programs up north, and I feel we get more clinical opportunities, we get more hands-on experience, and we get more one on one with teachers. It’s not hard to ask questions and its not hard to get help,” she said. “We get so many clinical experiences, and the community–when they know you’re a nursing student, they are willing to do whatever they can to help you learn, and help you be a great nurse.”
Benett added that the instructors’ use of the community and personal approach to teaching, has made a marked difference in her life.
“This program has taught me a great deal about myself–I have learned I can do really hard things, and I can learn and perform vital skills, and help others,” she said. “It has helped me get a lot more confidence.”
Both Behling and Benett said they were very grateful to have the USUE program in their community, and be able to receive such a high-quality education without having to travel or live somewhere else.
Candace Bowen a second year Registered Nurse student who earned her PN Certificate last year, and currently works at the Utah state Hospital, also cited an abundance of clinicals and hands-on experience as a major factor in her feeling confident in her education and training at USUE. While Benett plans on staying in the area, Bowen plans on moving to pursue her career elsewhere.
“If my training as a PN student is any indication, I will feel very confident that I will be more than prepared to work as an RN,” she said. “We have so many quality clinical opportunities, and the instructors are very helpful and the find opportunities for us to practice skills we haven’t yet experienced.”
To prepare them for their clinicals, and practice what they learn during clinicals, the USUE Nursing program boasts a state of the art simulation labs that allow students to become acquainted with working in a hospital or medical facility setting. The labs are rooms just feet from their regular classrooms that are exact replicas of hospital rooms with all the same equipment, monitors, medical supplies, and tools one would expect to find in a hospital room.
The simulation labs are equipped with specially engineered and crafted high-tech medical “dummies” that allow students a life-like experience to test their skills. The dummies are programmed and controlled by an observation booth from which instructors can change and control the simulation to allow for unpredictable circumstances students likely will encounter as nurses. The sim-lab dummies can realistically replicate any number of maladies and medical conditions including, cardiac arrest, wound care, hypertension, hemorrhaging, shock, and one can even actually give birth.
Patricia Davis Full-time faculty member said the simulation lab is an amazing asset that is a great resource for the students and they are very fortunate to have it as a teaching and learning tool. The lab prepares students for both the ordinary and extreme patient cases, and offers a safe, real-world environment in which they can learn, she said.
“I told the students that the sim lab is the opportunity to make mistakes without real-world consequences,” Davis said. “They can learn from mistakes there, and improve their skills for patient care.”
Student Joe Sanchez said the simulation labs offer invaluable experience.
“The realistic setting prepares us for a hospital, or other health care setting, so we are familiar with and knowledgeable about that environment,” he said. “After our time in the lab we feel confident that we will be ready and comfortable to provide quality care to patients during clinicals and when we are working as nurses.”
Davis said the students really love working in the lab, although it can be stressful when the simulation takes an unexpected turn, just like in an actual patient room.
“We really work hard to prepare the students, and build their confidence,” she said.
Becky Varndell, full-time faculty member over clinicals, said the most rewarding thing about her job and working with the students is seeing the progress they make and their growth both as nurses and as people.
“I get to see them from the very start and they are so green, and excited, and nervous, and you watch them grow into confident people who are willing to do anything that you ask of them, and are willing to embrace every experience.” She said. “There is an amazing change in their critical thinking, and they are people, that when they graduate, I would be completely ok if they took care of my family member.”
Unlike every other program in the state, USUE has not been turning students away, as they are growing their program. Students who complete their prerequisites and meet the qualifications, are accepted in the program. The Program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. and is approved by the Utah State Board of Nursing.

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