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Nursing program saves a career
Photos and Story by James Hill
There were more than 800 students who applied to the Portland Community College nursing program last year. But only 100 could be admitted via a lottery system.
The program, based at the Sylvania Campus has space for 200, split between first- and second-year students. But with demand for nurses in the healthcare industry at an all-time high, the time has come for PCC’s nursing program and others like it to expand to fill the industry workforce gap.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Oregon healthcare providers will experience a 44 percent vacancy rate in nursing positions by the year 2020, requiring more than 15,000 nurses to provide adequate patient care.
"The reasons for this shortage are many, and we are committed to assisting students to achieve the skill set needed to meet the challenges of the dynamic healthcare environment in which they will practice," said PCC’s new nursing director Marilyn McGuire-Sessions.
To help meet the need, PCC’s $374 million bond measure(26-95) on the Nov. 4 ballot would increase the nursing program’s footprint at the college. Tentative plans would include expansion into Washington County, possibly at the Rock Creek Campus (17705 N.W. Springville Road), which would help PCC serve more nursing students.
One of the lucky students from last year’s crop of new students was Kerri Hines. She works part-time as an emergency room technician for Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Vancouver, Wash. The 36-year-old married mother of six commutes daily from her home in Battle Ground, Wash., to take classes at the Southwest Portland campus.
"If it was meant to be it was meant to be," she said. "I wasn’t going to be discouraged if I wasn’t selected. Maybe the doors would have slammed shut for that moment, but I would have re-applied next year."
She had spent more than 14 years as a medical assistant and a dialysis technician until she decided a career in nursing would afford her better opportunities and because of the great demand for nurses.
"I needed a quick job at the time because I was a single mother, but after seven years my options became more and more limited," Hines said of her two earlier jobs. "For the previous seven years I was limited in what I could do and was used to following orders. But in nursing you have to critically think, plan and be organized, and know when to act. Nurses are the ones patients trust the most because they get to know them better. Nursing is an awesome responsibility and is the biggest challenge."
In 2006, she started taking her prerequisites for the nursing program, hoping by chance she could get into the program. It was her increased work with patients as a dialysis tech that prompted her career change.
"I fell in love with the idea of nursing by tending to the various patients and their needs," she added.
PCC’s nursing program is accredited by the Oregon State Board of Nursing and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. The program teaches students skills required for an entry-level nursing job and qualifies them to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, which is a requirement for practice.
The nursing program is all about making it easy for students to transition into the healthcare field. The college has forged an articulation agreement with Linfield College School of Nursing, where students are provisionally accepted into the Linfield program during their final term at PCC. Plus, in 2010, the nursing program will join the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education.
PCC also launched a cohort program of 18 students in 2007 to meet industry job demand. This program is a collaboration between the college and the Oregon Health Career Center, the Oregon State Hospital, Tuality Hospital, Willamette Falls Medical Center and Kaiser-Permanente. The students, who are separate from the regular nursing students, go through an accelerated program in which the curriculum is designed around their work schedules.
Starting salaries for registered nurses are in the $35,000 to $40,000 range and experienced nurses can earn anywhere from $40,000 to $65,000. With tools and partnerships in place, PCC has the ability to serve more students if it can expand facilities. Plus, community colleges in general become more and more important as the economy suffers a downturn because it’s an affordable way to retrain into a new career.
Just ask Kerri Hines.
"It’s really wonderful to be at PCC," said Hines, who says there are nursing students much older than she is retraining into a new career, too. "This is a wonderful nursing program. It’s not focused so much on skills, but the way they make you think. They challenge your ability to find the answer yourself. PCC offers resources and alternatives so you have options here. With the economy being bad, PCC is convenient, flexible and affordable. Your options are always open."