Bret McGill, dean of Calhoun Community College's Health Division, oversees a flourishing nursing program that's grown to close to 600 students annually.
The program offers seven nursing tracts, with classes held in the Health Sciences Building, one of the area's most cutting-edge teaching facilities.
McGill talks about the program and the future of nursing in this question and answer session:
Question: What are the biggest changes you see in nursing instruction?
Answer: Students are spending more time in simulation labs and less time sitting through lectures. Classes are more hands-on. We slow the emergency down until the level of education reaches the required level so they're more comfortable when they get into the hospital or a live situation.
Q: How are the new federal health care regulations approved under President Barack Obama impacting the profession?
A: We're not sure so far, but employers are trying to do more with less, and it's impacting the nurse-to-patient ratio. One nurse will have to work with more patients.
Q: What has been the biggest change lately in private doctors' use of nurses?
A: A lot of doctor's offices are using a certified medical assistant, and they're not hiring a registered nurse. A CMA can record vital signs and do injections. It takes one semester to become a CMA, and that's a great job for only one semester of education.
Q: How has becoming a registered nurses changed? Have their jobs changed?
A: It still takes seven semesters to become a registered nurse, and the curriculum hasn't changed. More management of CMA, LPNs (licensed nurse practitioner) and certified nursing assistants — what used to be called an orderly — is expected out of an RN.
Q: There are a lot of specialized areas in nursing such as pediatric, surgical and emergency room. When does a student select a specialty?
A: We teach the student the general areas of nursing. A student gets clinicals in almost every aspect of the profession. They usually make their specialty choice once they get into the profession.
Q: The U.S. Department of Labor said employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 23 percent from 2006-16, much faster than the average for all occupations. Is there a nursing shortage in north Alabama?
A: We're not seeing a shortage here. If you look at the unemployment rate in general, we're better than most areas of the country. The same goes for nursing. If they seek a job, close to 85 percent of our graduates are employed within the first year after graduation. It helps that we admit students twice a year and hold graduation three times a year.
Q: Construction of the Health Sciences Building was huge in allowing Calhoun to expand the number of nursing students. Do you see the college adding more nursing students?
A: We could expand, but the availability of clinical sites is more of a limiting factor than classrooms. There's a lot of competition among the colleges in the area for these sites. Calhoun, UAHuntsville, Drake (State Technical College), Oakwood (College) and Wallace (State Community College), need clinical sites.
One thing that helps us is we have a great relationship with UAHuntsville. Once a Calhoun student passes the nursing board, he is automatically accepted into UAHuntsville's Bachelor of Science nursing program.
Bayne Hughes can be reached at 256-340-2432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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