Nome program grows new class of nurses
A program jointly offered by the Bering Strait Region Health Consortium and the University of Alaska Anchorage is producing registered nurses right here in Nome. With almost no travel out of the region a student can get a nursing degree.
“The purpose of the RN program is to help with the nursing shortage that we have,” said Wendy Smith, herself an RN and the RN instructor for the program. “Especially in rural areas, and isolated areas such as Nome. The community has decided to invest in itself and home grow our own nurses.”
The demand for nurses in Alaska is high and the turnover is even higher. In rural Alaska the situation is even more critical. By training nurses in the community they live in the problem of turnover, it is hoped, will subside.
The students must first pass the prerequisite courses, most of them offered online. When they finish those classes they apply for full-time status in the program and begin their clinical years. For those two years they work with Wendy Smith and continue to have video classes with Anchorage teachers. While most of their labs and clinicals will be done in Nome, they will occasionally have to go to Anchorage for wider exposure.
“If they go to Anchorage they’re going there for a short time,” said Smith. “Last semester, with our last cohort, they went for three weeks. They are getting more exposure to things we don’t have here in Nome. They’re getting exposure to large emergency rooms, intensive care units, mamma, baby, birth, labor and delivery, They’re getting exposure to cancer floors. The type of patients that as a critical access hospital we do not normally keep here.”
Vanessa Tahlhofer is one of the four students in the current “cohort.” Cohort is a term from the Roman army that means group of individuals treated as a unit. Tahlhofer has just started the program. “When I had my first son I enjoyed the hospital experience,” she said when asked what interested her in becoming a nurse. “I had great labor and delivery nurses and that really inspired me to want to become a nurse.”
She will stay in Nome once she completes the program.
Daniel Hobbs is also in the program. He’s been working in the lab at NHSC for the past few years and before that was an EMS. “So this is actually a longer journey for me,” he said. “And not the last part of the journey. I’d like to be a provider by the time it’s all done. A nurse practitioner.”
Veronica Verbridge has a bachelor’s degree and now works for her RN. “My mother was a nurse and always I was her assistant. I like to help, and I like to serve people.” She also will stay in Nome to practice nursing.
Kallie King is already a CNA and has been working at the Quyanna Care Center. “It’s always been my dream to be in the medical field,” she said. “So I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. After I had my daughter it was my push to do what I’ve always wanted to do. I was a CNA for a while, which made me feel even more in love with it.”
“We have all three nurses who graduated from the previous cohort working at the hospital,” said Smith. “Some who graduated previously are still at the hospital and some are working on their bachelor’s degree and some on their masters.”
“It is helping to stabilize a workforce that can be very transient because of our location,” she continued. “It helps with the continuum of care so the patients know when they come in that they get the same caregivers. It’s not a different face every time. And that really builds trust between the community and the hospital.”