SPSCC opens new lab to help fill shortage of nurses

By Venice Buhain
http://www.theolympian.com

Nurses are in demand, and more students are wanting to get into the program at South Puget Sound Community College, school officials say.

The nursing program there has gone from an enrollment of 64 in 2001 to 166 in fall 2007, said Marilyn Adair, director of the SPSCC nursing program.

SPSCC has created a classroom that looks like a miniature hospital ward, with instruments, beds and three adult and three child mannequins that serve as patients. The remodeled lab was shown at an open house Thursday.

One of the “adults” is a computer-operated “Sim Man,” which can show vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse. An operator in a control room can manipulate the vital signs as students work, and the operator can answer questions.

The college also has a new Sim Baby and other mannequins that show vital signs but are not as sophisticated.

The mannequins are important to teaching student nurses about symptoms they might see, Adair said.

“Elevated heart rate, trouble breathing. These are things that you couldn’t simulate in a classroom,” she said. “If you have the students practice on each other, everyone’s heart rate is normal; everyone is breathing normally.”

In the lab, the college simulates not only different health scenarios, but different social scenarios, such as a hostile patient or one who needs a translator.

“It is stressful,” said Tiffany Jackson of Olympia, a second-year nursing student. “But it’s very, very helpful.”

Cameras mounted on the ceiling broadcast the action to a classroom next door, where other students watch and learn. Others play the parts of family and visitors.

“When you have people out of the room, it makes it more realistic,” Adair said.

Rising demand

The Washington State Employment Security Department’s Workforce Explorer projected about 200 job openings a year for registered nurses in South Sound, including Thurston and counties to the west, between 2006 and 2016.

According to the Washington Center for Nursing, the state must graduate 400 new nurses a year to meet demand.

“In Washington, the average age of a registered nurse is 48.5 years,” said Sandy Penland, director of nursing practice at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

Because of the aging nursing population, the profession could be looking at a number of retirements in a few years, and hospital officials say they want to make sure there are enough people trained to fill those spots.

Capital Medical Center and Providence St. Peter have teamed with the college to train more nurses locally. The hospitals pay for additional openings in the college’s nursing department that are available first to hospital employees who meet the other criteria, such as credits and grade-point average.

“We can’t afford to lose any nurses. It’s a nursing shortage that’s driving this,” Penland said.

Providence St. Peter also teamed with University of Washington, Tacoma, which offers classes at the hospital for employees working on a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing.

Students Jackson and Petee Hoyt, both surgical assistants at Capital Med, are involved in the nursing program-hospital partnership.

“It’s more experience, and there are more opportunities as a nurse to move to different departments,” Hoyt said. “As a surgical assistant, most of the patients I interact with are unconscious. But nurses get more opportunity to interact with patients.”

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