Nurses see life, death through field work

Courtesy photo

Castleton nursing students work with patients on their recent trip to Honduras with the Vermont Nursing Brigade.
Nursing students work over 500 hours in the field gaining skills they can't learn in a classroom.

Nurses see babies enter this world and patients leave it. They feel fear, and joy, and sadness, all in one shift.

Learning to handle these situations can’t be taught in a classroom and that’s why placing student nurses in actual clinical settings is so vital.

“These are opportunities for students to learn what we can’t teach here,” said Ellen Ceppetelli, Castleton University’s director of nursing.

In order for the program to be recognized by the Vermont Board of Nursing, students in the registered nursing program must complete more than 580 field and clinical hours, no more than a small portion of which can be completed in the virtual hospital setting on campus. These hours include rotations in adult nursing, maternal infant nursing, pediatric nursing and psychiatric mental health, as well has courses in pharmacology, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, microbiology and humanities, according to Ceppetelli.

In the associate’s program, students attend clinicals in seven-week rotations and in the bachelor’s program in 15-week rotations. This variety gives the students a chance to not only gain experience in these areas, but also find which they like the best.

For Junior Jen McGuoirk, it turned out to be pediatrics.

“I think my desire is set in pediatrics. I love children. I know a lot of people say ‘oh, but that’s so sad because it’s a bunch of sick kids,’ and I agree, it is sad, but it’s so much more than just a bunch of sick kids,” McGuoirk said. “I want to help them to know that they can still be a kid, even if they are sick. They are still a kid and I hope they will still laugh and smile and play. I want to make that happen. I want them to have the best childhood they can.”

Taylor Greenway, a 2015 Castleton graduate, has recently taken a position at Cold Hollow Family Practice in Enosburg Falls. Although she didn’t have a clinical experience in this kind of environment while at Castleton, she said the variety really helped her become a well-rounded nurse.

“Nursing is a very interesting profession and there really is no limit to what you can do,” she said. “It’s a very flexible role where you can work as a school nurse and eventually work in the operating room. I have worked in a nursing home, hospital and now have my dream job working for a small family practice.”

Many of the student nurses interviewed were especially impacted by the maternity rotation.

“I had an amazing rotation in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and I got to see a birth. There was so much energy and anticipation as the mother was being coached through the birth,” said senior Jade Blodgett. ”The thrill of being in the room while a new life was being born is indescribable.”

“I dealt with some situations that were both difficult and wonderful. Pediatric nursing was like that for me too. It’s very different working with children in comparison to working with an adult,” Greenway said.

These experiences in the community make students even more marketable to potential employers. During Greenway’s senior year, she had an RN position working in a nursing home. McGuoirk has already accepted a post-graduation position at Glens Falls Hospital, and Blodgett is a nurse at Porter Hospital on the Medical/Surgical floor.

“I have such a greater capacity for compassion. Most nurses choose this profession because they genuinely love people. Growing our compassion and love for others helps nurses connect more with their patients,” Blodgett said.

Although their training is extensive, nothing can truly prepare nurses for what they will face in the field.

“It is the neatest thing when what is taught in lecture can be applied in clinical settings; it’s like a light bulb moment and everything clicks,” said junior Bekah Jensen. “Instead of just memorizing lab values, I can see the effect it has when a patient has a low calcium level or a high potassium level. I wouldn’t have that experience in the classroom alone.”

“Nursing school prepares you for an environment where you have time to think about the right and wrong answers to a question, but new nurses find that there really isn’t time to figure out which answer is the right one,” Blodgett said.

Ceppetelli agrees that nursing school can only get students part of the way and experience is what will make them successful nurses. In addition to clinical hours, a group of senior nursing students take a trip to Honduras each year with the Vermont Nursing Brigade to help patients and get experience beyond New England.

“You can anticipate what’s going to happen, but you don’t really know because everyone is different,” Ceppetelli said. “By going in and having these experiences with patients, you learn the differences between patients and how you have to adjust your plan of care based on the individual.”

She added that it is said to take five years of working in the same position as a nurse to become an expert.

“From the very first day of nursing school, nursing students are told that they will never stop learning in the field of nursing,” Jensen said. “If a nurse is planning to end their learning the day they pass the NCLEX, they might as well not even become a nurse.”

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