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‘You get to help somebody’

Demand has increased for College of the Canyons' nursing program

Posted: December 19, 2009 8:07 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons Resident Nurse Student Coca Corcuera puts an IV in a patient at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Tuesday morning.

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Angie Flores, a registered nurse, and Coca Corcuera, a College of the Canyons nursing student, circled around an older man with a long beard who lay in a hospital bed.

Corcuera lifted the man's right arm as he straightened it and made a fist.

The two prepared a spot in his forearm to start an IV. The needle slowly slipped into the man's arm.

"Stop right there," Flores said. "Try to follow the vein."

A few steps outside the patient's room was organized chaos.

Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital nurses, doctors and hospital staff shuffled through the halls tending to the day's patients. Charts and tests were analyzed, doctors were being paged and nurses swapped through the stations.

In the cool room, soft mumbles of "The Price is Right" came from an adjacent bed.

With his arm over the bed rail, the two women hovered over the man as his chest slowly rose up and down. The IV was almost ready.

"You want to cover the whole thing to prevent infection," Flores said as a patch went over the IV.

It was the middle of a 12-hour shift for Corcuera, a fourth-semester nursing student enrolled in the College of the Canyons program.

One of more than 250 College of the Canyons nursing students, Corcuera was finishing her clinical, a major part of the nursing program where students work with registered nurses to learn the profession firsthand.

By the end of the clinical, nursing students are able to tend to up to four patients.

Meeting the demand
The community college has seen the demand for its nursing program grow to meet a state shortage of nurses.

This week, 63 nursing students took part in the traditional pinning ceremony, which signifies the end of a nurse's training.

The program, which dates back to the early 90s, is one of the most popular at COC. Getting into the program can take years for some students, who must take a series of courses before being admitted to the nursing program.

Upon finishing the program with an Associate Degree in nursing, students move on to take the National Licensing Exam before becoming registered nurses.

In 2001, COC's program admitted about 40 students a year.

That number has jumped to 100 annually, said Sue Albert, dean of allied health. The college offers two application periods a year.

For the last spring semester, the college received 500 applications for 60 open spots, Albert said.

"It's unfortunate that we can't bring them all in," she said.

The number of instructors has grown from six initially in 2001 to 14 full-time staff now, Albert said.

The college has partnered with about 20 different hospitals throughout Southern California so that close to 300 students can train in a hospital setting.

The college formed a partnership with Newhall Memorial in 2001. Along with giving nursing students clinical experience, the hospital provides teaching space for the program.


Demanding, but worth it
Albert called nursing a flexible profession that often pays well, especially in a down economy where the medical and health fields offer some hope for jobs.

For many, it's a chance to give back.

"Nursing is a unique profession where you get to help somebody," Albert said.

That could mean staying with a hospital patient through the night or comforting patients when they are in pain, she said.

"Most of them do it because nursing is a way to make a difference in the world," she said.

Student Mindie Hernandez, 31, of Valencia, initially wanted to become a doctor.

"I've always been intrigued with the body and how things work," she said.

She soon found that nursing would be a better fit.

"I realize that it's the nurses who spend most of the time with the patients," she said.

That time has allowed Hernandez to offer a personal touch when it comes to caring for patients.

Student Michelle Payne, 25, of Canyon Country sees nursing as a way to help people through the best and worst times of their lives, she said.

That opportunity comes with struggles as the nursing program requires hours of class time each week and a clinical.

Payne found herself balancing school and work.

"I would say you become more confident in yourself," she said.

Students are able to rotate through various departments, including the emergency room, and intensive care unit, as they shadow registered nurses and learn from the professionals.

"It's demanding," she said. "You miss a lot of things in the world around you, but it's very much worth it."

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