Scurrying through the hallways of the Gracie Lee Haught Education Center, dark blue smock clad students from Debbie Eldredge’s Gila Community College (GCC) nursing assistant class prepare for their weekly clinical training.
“This room is completely set up for test tubes,” says one student.
A group sits in a corner analyzing their notes and preparing for their hands-on clinical class, part of one of GCC’s most important, best attended vocational programs.
Two girls rush out of the supply room carrying linens, bowls and dishes.
“This room will be for peri-care, this for feeding, and this for bed baths and conditioning,” said Eldredge focusing the energy of her students.
As they settle into their different rooms, Eldredge takes a moment to explain the purpose of the day.
“I have my students practice on each other so they know what it feels like when they give care,” said Eldredge, “By the end of their time with me, I tell them they have good enough training to take care of my family.”
The state requires students to know 21 different skills on a written exam, explained Eldredge. The students today practice peri-care, learning to wash a patient who must use a bed pan or diapers; feeding and mouth care, practicing how to brush teeth and feed; and bed baths and conditioning, caring for a patient who cannot get out of bed and must be cleaned and moved to remain healthy.
Eldredge listed off further tasks nursing assistants do for incapacitated patients: hair and nail care, non-sterile dressings, shaving, vitals, bed pans, monitor fluid and food intake, foley bags, mouth care, and taking measurements and weight, plus a long list of other tasks healthy people take for granted.
Her class also teaches the students the theories, foundations, and legalities of health care. Students learn didactics and the 10 bodily systems they will work with on patients.
“I tell my students the best way to learn is repetition, repetition, repetition and to practice, practice, practice,” said Eldredge showing check-off lists the nursing assistant patients have filled in with their hours of practice.
“Knock, knock, knock!” is heard through the hallway.
In the next room, Mary Lambken starts her practice by knocking on the door of the room her mannequin patient sits in.
“Hello Mr. Jones, I’m here to brush your teeth,” said Lambken, “I hope that is alright,” she explains as if she were in the middle of an actual patient visit.
She pulls out a side table covered with a toothbrush, towel and cup.
“First what I’m going to do is brush your teeth side to side,” she takes the tooth brush and does this to the mannequin, “Now I’m going to get your biting surface,” she brushes that area, “and now the top teeth,” she finishes the job.
“OK, I’m going to have you rinse and spit a couple of times ... here’s a glass with a straw,” she said as she handed the materials to Mr. Jones.
When she believes the patient has finished, she pulls out a towel to wipe off any wet spots.
“I’m done Mr. Jones. If you need anything, please give me a call.”
Tori McDaniels sits next to the wall with the list of activities watching everything Lambken does. McDaniels makes sure every task is done in the proper order to complete the tooth-brushing task.
“You did good, just don’t forget to do this step before that one,” said McDaniels pointing to the towel and cup.
“The students check each other before I come in to check them off,” said Eldredge.
Nursing is a growing business.
“Three out of the nine students who graduated in December from the program just called me,” said Eldredge, “They all got jobs in Payson.”
In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor lists nursing as one of the hot job fields of the future. In the next decade, nursing jobs will grow by an estimated 20 percent. Already, more than 100,000 nursing jobs remain vacant nationwide.
The nation’s 2.6 million registered nurses represent the largest group in the still booming health care industry, with about 60 percent of the RN jobs in hospitals. The Department of Labor rates job prospects for the future as “excellent.” The nation will likely need about 580,000 more RNs by 2018.
Training as a nursing assistant offers students a chance to move off in a variety of directions from becoming a full nurse or nurse practitioner to other positions in the health field.
Eldredge also sees a variety of students come through her program, from students in the NAVIT program through the high school to adults looking to change their career.
“There’s a calling for this career that you need to have,” said Eldredge, “I’ve had some students finish this course and tell me this just isn’t for them.”