Nursing program enters fourth year |

Nursing program enters fourth year

Marilyn Hehr, nursing program director at Colorado Northwestern Community College, talks with nursing instructor Sandy Harding before the start of classes at the college this fall.
Dan Olsen

Marilyn Hehr has been with the Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing program since it began three years ago. At that time, the faculty consisted of one director and one instructor.

This year, Hehr takes control as program director, and the program boasts 12 faculty members, including part-time employees who instruct 48 nursing students.

In addition to intensive amounts of required reading, students learn theory in the classroom, gain hands-on experience in the laboratory and spend days learning nursing in training programs not at the college.

In the clinical instruction section of the nursing program, students gain experience in real-life situations in local hospitals and nursing homes.

First-year students take 82 hours of clinical instruction by the end of their first semester. Second-year students take an additional 140 hours of clinical experience by the end of their first semester.

Just before the end of their second year, students take what is known as capstone clinical training. It consists of 90 hours of specialized training in areas such as burn units, children’s units and fast-paced emergency rooms.

“It was a bit of a challenge to find sites for the clinical training,” Hehr said. “The Memorial Hospital and Yampa Valley Medical Center have been wonderful in taking students.”

Nurses in training also visit Grand Junction for 45 hours of obstetric pediatric training and 45 hours of psychiatric nursing.

CNCC is part of the Colorado Community College System, and the 11 nursing programs across the state are creating “look-alike” programs, so a student transferring to another program can fit right in.

That means a new curriculum for nursing students from this year forward.

Instead of students completing their first year and needing to be re-admitted for the second year, they now enroll in a two-year program in which they will qualify to take the state exam to become registered nurses at the end of their schooling.

After completing their first year, students have the option of taking an extra summer course and testing to become Licensed Practical Nurses or going directly into the second year of classes.

Hehr said that recently, nursing programs have gotten away from memorizing books and that they are now teaching more critical thinking processes to students. The goal is holistic nursing, where the whole patient is treated, and nurses are encouraged to think out the situation, seek the best treatments and ensure that the right doses of medications are administered.

The college is also working toward an accreditation with the National League for Nursing, which requires all faculty members to hold Master of Science degrees in nursing.

This fall, 16 returning LPNs will be joined by eight incoming LPNs, all with the goal of being pinned registered nurses by the end of this school year.

Included in this year’s enrollment are three men in the first-year class and four men in the second-year program. The seven men make CNCC nursing program’s 14.6 percent male enrollment almost double the nationwide average of 7.9 percent.

Hehr is excited about the future of the nursing program at CNCC, and especially of the collaboration between the college and The Memorial Hospital.

The hospital’s new facility, which is expected to be completed in two years, will include classrooms for training students on site, as well as simulation labs where students can practice on state-of-the-art mannequins that can be programmed for different procedures.

Students taking nursing classes at CNCC range from recent high school graduates to 50-year-olds bringing a lot of life experiences to the table, Hehr said.

Thirty-one of the nursing students call Craig home. Steamboat Springs sends 10 to the classes, and the rest come from other towns in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties, as well as Denver.

“I feel that giving nurses to Northwest Colorado is my legacy,” she said. “It’s so exciting. It’s overwhelming to see what has happened in their lives.”

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