A School News Network feature: Nursing student Mustafa Ajanovic assisted his best friend, Bayle Delalic, through a prenatal visit, weighing in, checking vital signs, and listening for the baby’s heart tones.
He and other students in the Licensed Practical Nursing program went through the steps of a doctor’s appointment with Delalic, who is due May 21, and several other pregnant women who volunteered.
While the session was informative for expectant moms, Ajanovic said it was extremely valuable for his own experience. It’s one of many simulation activities he’s taking part in while training to be a nurse.
“I like the sim labs they provide here because they throw you into a situation and make you critically think and try to organize your time and priorities,” said Ajanovic.
Shelly Richter, nursing programs director at GRCC, credits interactive experiences — part of a new curriculum — as one reason for a jump in scores on license exams in both the Practical Nursing and Associate Degree programs. In 2019, all nursing students passed those exams — 104 associate degree nurses and 42 LPN students. It was also the largest number of students taking the exams ever in one year.
“Simulation, active learning and more engaged activities have seemed to really have an impact,” she said.
While the practice prenatal clinic involved real people, many simulation sessions use manikins that respond and talk. “We have six bed labs and an amazing simulation lab with high-fidelity manikins, so they blink and talk. We can start IVs on them, we have a (manikin) mother that can deliver a baby and an actual baby we can do Apgar scores on,” Richter said, referring to the initial assessment of a newborn’s health.
Milestones in Nursing
It’s an apropos time to reach that level of success. GRCC is celebrating seven decades of training nurses this year, with its Practical Nursing certificate program turning 70 and it associate degree program turning 50. The anniversaries coincide with the World Health Organization’s designation of 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, in honor of the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
With classrooms located on the fourth floor of Cook Hall, GRCC’s nursing program is situated perfectly amid downtown Grand Rapids’ hub of hospitals and medical institutions, where new nurses are working in many settings and with all ages and populations.
“We continue to see a big demand for nurses. Our grads get hired 100 percent,” Richter said. “There are definitely jobs available.”
Professor of Nursing Sherry Knoppers said much of the demand for nurses is due to the aging baby boomer generation. “With a huge segment of the population reaching the age range when they need more health care, we need more nurses across the spectrum,” she said.
GRCC’s associate’s program trains three cohorts of 36 to 40 students a year, for a total of about 110 per year who are fully licensed registered nurses.
“They can apply for any RN position. Our students work in the major hospitals around here, long-term care, sub acute, community health, with inmates, with refugee populations. They work in positions including staff nurses, directors of nursing,” Richter said.
LPNs Still in Demand
While there is a waiting list for the associate’s program, Richter said students shouldn’t feel deterred. They can take prerequisite classes while waiting, and high school students upon completion of their junior year can even apply for the program to get on the waiting list, which is approximately 2 ½ years.
Practical nursing offers two cohorts of 30 to 32 students in a yearlong program, graduating 56 to 60 each year. Licensed practical nurses typically work in long-term care, physician’s offices, clinics and community centers. There is no waiting list for the LPN program.
“There is a misconception in the community that LPNs are not used anymore,” Richter said. “That is also wrong. We have so many facilities constantly calling. There’s a huge demand for practical nursing.”
The cost for the Associate Degree program is significantly less at GRCC than at four-year universities: $19,300 for residents and $38,600 for residents. The cost of the LPN program is $11,000 for residents and $22,000 for non-residents.
Nursing pays about $28 an hour for RNs and around $20 for LPNs. Many hospitals and institutions offer tuition reimbursement for students who go on to pursue their bachelor’s degree.
Hands-on and in the Moment
One of the biggest changes in nursing training in recent years has been simulation experiences, she said.
“One of our goals was to put 25 percent simulation in each course, as a minimum. That way students have the opportunity to practice hands-on in a safe setting. Students love it. They are intimidated at first, but then they realize this is a great opportunity to learn.”
During the prenatal lab, nursing student Turkesha Hankins worked with patients by taking blood pressure and adjusting beds. She’s pursuing her LPN because she already works in health care and will make $5.50 more per hour with her license.
“It’s just knowledge,” she said. “We learn a lot. Pediatrics is something very new to me because I’ve never worked in this field before, so I’m soaking in everything I can.”
Diversity of Nurses Needed
Another big change in the profession, Richter said, is the diversity of students. “This used to be a women’s profession. We are always trying to recruit males. It’s really fun. All people bring something different to the table.”
Also, the age of nursing students spans just out of high school to retirees from other careers.
“One of the best things about working here at GRCC is having a diverse group of people that we work with, diverse in race, age, socioeconomic status, background,” Richter said. “It doesn’t matter if you haven’t worked in health care.”
“As a philosophy, this is an open door college,” Richter said. “As long as they have the foundation, we want to carry them through the program.”