Last month I had my first experience with an
operating room environment. Iíd hoped to follow in my motherís
footsteps óshe didnít have any surgery until she was 94 years old.
Even at my age a trip to the hospital for minor outpatient surgery can
cause a high level of anxiety.
From the time I entered the pre-operation room to the
time I left the hospital, nurses were helping me get through the process.
Some performed the technical functions; others just provided much-needed
comfort and support. One nurse even commented about reading my articles in
this magazine as she wheeled me into the operating room. I was thinking to
myself, ďBoy, I hope she enjoyed my comments.Ē
The nursing staff at Prince William Hospital
certainly made my experience as pleasurable as can be expected and I thank
them for their efforts. Recently, a friend of mine whose wife had a stroke
commented on how a nurse at the hospital helped save his wife from more
serious consequences by her alert observation and action. My family has
personally experienced the anxiety created when a loved one is confined to
a hospital that was short on nursing help. Iím concerned that in the
future the quality of our health care will be compromised by societyís
failure to address the serious shortage of health-care providers.
During my years as an educational administrator I
supervised the Licensed Practical Nursing program for Prince William
County Schools. The program was one of the most effective vocational
programs offered by the school system. Working in cooperation with the
local hospitals, the program produced many excellent graduates who are
providing a valuable community service. The program still exists some
three decades later in Prince William, as it does in many other school
systems throughout the state and country. Students receive one year of
pre-clinical experience followed by a year of clinical experience in a
participating hospital. Each student must then pass a state exam to
receive a license to practice.
In the past some school systems have threatened the
elimination of this program because of a perceived low pupil-teacher
ratio. The program accepts adults as well as seniors in high school. State
guidelines establish a clinical ratio of 10 students to one instructor.
Since the schools got little credit for the adult population, there was
some reluctance to continue school support. Today some programs are
revenue-based, with monies coming from several sources; but as is often
the case, itís not enough.
Dr. Kathleen Kunze, director of Vocational Education
for Prince William County Schools, says about the nurse-training program,
ďItís the best-kept secret in town.Ē I could have made that
statement decades ago; some things never change. These programs are
usually based in one school or vocational center and in my opinion donít
receive proper attention by administrators and guidance counselors.
Recruiting high school seniors is difficult and many of the programís
students are young adults in their 20s who have returned to take programs
they didnít know existed when they were high school students. School
boards need to address this issue by making sure that proper attention is
given to all school programs.
Students can continue to work toward advanced degrees
at community and four-year colleges, which will accept parts or all of
previous experiences toward RN or other degrees. These working
arrangements provide excellent opportunities for advancement while earning
a living. At a recent ACRE (Action Committee for Rural Electrification)
meeting sponsored by Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, Sen. Charles
Colgan noted that the General Assembly provided monies to furnish the new
facility at the Northern Virginia Community College Campus. This facility
is designed to help prepare nurses and personnel for various other medical
careers. Now itís up to the communities served by this facility to
encourage students to take advantage of this new educational environment.
When I left Prince William County Schools to become a
professor at George Mason University, I again had the opportunity to work
with people in the nursing profession. The George Mason School of Nursing
at that time was part of the School of Professional Studies, which
included education and social-work programs. The nursing faculty certainly
set the high standard for the college. The dedicated staff produced
outstanding graduates who helped alleviate a critical shortage of nurses
in many areas of the state. My own daughter was one of the graduates of
the program, so I speak from the perspective of a close personal
experience. Virginia has many excellent nursing programs at colleges
throughout the state.
Signs of Hope
Discussions with representatives of the George Mason
Nursing Program show signs for hope. The number of applicants is
increasing. The applicants span all age groups. This appears to be a
welcome national trend. Most students entering the nursing profession have
historically been female. In recent years more males have chosen this
career, but it still remains largely a female occupation.
Increased opportunities for females in all
professions have led to shortages in some professions such as nursing and
education. Nurses still face the challenges such as shift hours, high
levels of stress, and insufficient pay. Like teachers, firemen,
law-enforcement workers and other public-service positions, the nursing
profession needs our continued support.
Technology and business growth have contributed to
the high quality of health care provided the citizens of this country, but
technology alone will not provide the services needed for an aging
population. Itís the person-to-person contact that usually stands out
when we recall a loved oneís experience in a medical facility.
Nurses provide the greatest amount of this kind of
human interaction. As a society we should continue to encourage our youth
to seek careers in nursing and other associated professions. Weíll all
need their help somewhere along the road.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: DrBmailbag@aol.com,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.