AITKIN -- Life in the work place is all about compatibility. Career compatibility.
Central Lakes College nursing students get a healthy dose of this from a reality check known as the "clinical." It is a period of real-world learning with hospitalized patient care under supervised eyes and alongside health-care professionals.
Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin is the latest partner for CLC's expanded practical and registered nursing programs responding to the shortage of caregivers.
For several weeks and eight-hour shifts at a stretch, college students get firsthand, on-the-job training at Aitkin, as well as hospitals in Brainerd, Crosby and Little Falls during the fall 2004 semester.
Adam Hiltner of Baxter, a nursing student at Central Lakes College, checked medical records associated with his work under the supervision of instructor Nancy Meyer. Whenever needed, the students could consult with members of the Aitkin hospital medical team for input and consistent care.
Last spring, RN students also had learning experiences with the Lakewood Health Care system and its Greater Staples Hospital in Staples.
Students assemble in groups of 10 for each clinical to keep training effective while minimizing the potential for congestion in places such as the secure medicine room. The students in the first Aitkin group also had gone through a clinical at St. Joseph's Medical Center and the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center, as well as the Riverwood extended care facility in Aitkin.
Their shift at the hospital ran from 6:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Next spring, more clinical duty in Brainerd will include night shift training.
After two days in their whites and scrubs, working with doctors and nurses, it's back to the books for study and lectures of intense academic rigor. It's a routine that is never routine.
That suits Adam Hiltner, whose first try at college and a career led him from machining to nursing. After gaining practical nursing licensure, Hiltner intends to continue to the next level as a registered nurse.
The 26-year-old Baxter man spent five years in his first occupation. During the last three he admits he was in a transition mode, researching options. His heart wasn't in machining.
"I decided I wanted to do something where I felt I was directly helping people every day, all the time," he said as he awaited his next visit with a patient at the Aitkin hospital. Five years gave him more maturity, as it did Julie Allen, 26, of Baxter.
Jan Hegman of Aitkin (center) and instructor Nancy Meyer checked on Riverwood Healthcare Center patient Glenn Davies. The 83-year-old Aitkin man said he enjoyed the extra attention that came with the addition of 10 CLC nursing students for several weeks of "hands-on" education.
"Some of us have children now," she said, "and we have fellow nursing students who have been out of school even longer." Some CLC nursing students have offspring of the same generation as Allen.
Whatever the age, encouragement and flexible guidance from a cadre of experienced instructors are crucial elements. "It's tough, with all the course work," Allen said. "But we have teachers who understand the challenges and work with our schedules. Just so we do the work."
Nancy Meyer, clinical instructor, is a veteran the students have come to admire as they transition to the hospital setting. She has the credentials and the people skills to smooth wrinkles with those already working as LPNs and RNs. Students get access to the same medical tools and resources available to the professionals.
"Students say the staff is gracious and friendly, they're treated quite well by the people who work here day in and day out," said Meyer. "After all, many of them went through it once themselves."
At the Aitkin hospital, team nursing is the element of consistency for effective care-giving, said Kris Layne, director of nursing. The concept lends itself to a positive learning environment for CLC students, said Meyer.
Aside from nurses and various medical specialists serving the hospital, its modernized capability suits the learning curve. Riverwood has been in its new facility barely two years. It shares surgeons with Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, Crosby, for a regular schedule of operations performed when needed.
Katie Sutton of Crosby is among the students for whom the operating room is a classroom. After witnessing abdominal surgery performed by Dr. Paul Severson in one of several Riverwood operating rooms, she had a measure of appreciation for and interest in surgical nursing.
For Jan Hegman of Aitkin, the clinical time synchronizes with her part-time work as a nursing assistant at Riverwood. When she earns her RN degree, Hegman will be a desirable candidate for Riverwood as a "known commodity," familiar with staff and system.
"We're heading into a bigger nursing shortage," said Layne, noting Aitkin County has the oldest population in the state. "The time will come when we need to increase beds, and that means increasing staff, consultants are saying." Nursing students today, she said, will have choices in several kinds of health care delivery.
Students today may be colleagues tomorrow.
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