New nurses learn on the job

July 14, 2004|TIM WISEMN

Kristi Cummins lugged giant nursing books and crammed for tests for years, but she realized her education was just beginning after she took a job with Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center.

"I feel like I have a degree, but I hadn't started learning until I started working," said Cummins, who graduated in May from Eastern Kentucky University with an associate degree in nursing.

And that is the idea behind EMRMC's orientation program for new nurses, said Terry Casey, a registered nurse at EMRMC and the program's education facilitator.

During the three-month orientation process, Cummins and the hospital's six other new nurses will take weekly classes that focus on problem-based learning and discussing case studies, all in hopes of easing the transition from the classroom to the hospital.


"Problem-solving is something that has to be developed - it can't be learned in school," Casey said. "Hopefully, they can use this time to have their questions answered and to explore things more in depth."

Having survived school, some might shy away from more required reading and homework, but Loujanna VanHook said the work is like every other part of a nurse's job - you really have to want to do it.

"You have to have a need and a want to take care of people," said VanHook, who graduated from Somerset Community College in May with an associate degree in nursing. "You have to have a compassion to do it.

"I've always wanted to do it."

Vickie Chapman always saw herself becoming a nurse, too; it just took longer for her to make that happen.

Four years ago, Chapman worked in sales, but with some encouragement from her husband she resolved to make her dream a reality.

"Nursing was something I always visualized myself going, but I had not gotten around to it," Chapman said.

In May, she graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with her associate degree in nursing and now she works in the critical care unit of EMRMC.

She agreed with Cummins that being in the hospital every day is far different from the short clinical sessions she had as a student.

"Here, things can change very quickly," she said. "It's just a learning experience about how to stay calm."

This stressful environment often leads to the "nurse burnout" experienced by new nurses, said Renee Beckum, a registered nurse at EMRMC. As part of the orientation program, Beckum acts as a preceptor - a mentor or coach - for a new nurse. In this role, Beckum is on hand to help answer questions and to listen to the frustrations of new nurses.

"We are there to help them know where they can go to vent," Beckum said. "We do formal things as well as informal things like just talking."

This comprehensive program is one of the reasons Cummins makes the long commute from Mount Vernon to Danville to work at EMRMC. She said the program has been very helpful in smoothing the gap she found "between the textbook and reality."

Even after the orientation classes end and the nurses have settled into their jobs, most will keep studying.

Stephanie Wesley spent the last three years juggling family and classes, but she plans to keep doing it so she can reach her goal of working in an operating room and then some day doing medical research. She already has signed up for two classes to get her bachelor's degree and has plans to aim for a master's and more after that.

It was a desire to help others that drove Wesley to quit her job and return to school three years ago, and she said it is that desire that pushes her to keep working.

"I felt like I was not doing what I needed to be doing," Wesley said. "I wanted to go into a field where I could help someone. It's something you really have to want to do."

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