Columbia College and Lake Regional are working together to provide quality nurses

“Learning the ropes — Columbia College–Lake Ozark nursing students Christopher Williams, Tabby Pemberton and Taylor Raube are pictured at the school’s skilled practical nursing lab, located on the campus in Osage Beach. The students are part of the college’s joint nursing program with Lake Regional Health System, which is helping to provide more qualified nurses to the lake community.”

Story by Jeremy Hulshof, Eldon Advertiser

Nursing is the backbone of the medical profession. Performing most of the same functions as doctors, nurses endure many years of study, backbreaking labor and hours of tireless work, for moderate pay, all in the service of their patients. In honor of their dedication, America is celebrating National Nurses Week May 6-12.

There is currently a national shortage of qualified nurses. In 2005, Dr. John Keeney, director of the Columbia College lake campus in Osage Beach, was approached by Lake Regional Health System CEO Mike Henze, who presented an idea for easing this problem around the lake. The two businesses would team up to make becoming become a nurse a little easier. And through their joint nursing program, students have had the opportunity to receive top-notch instruction and hands-on training in a real medical environment. This program has been approved by the Missouri State Board of Nursing.

“Part of our mission is to meet the educational needs of the community,” said Keeney. “There is a national shortage of nurses across the country, which of course affects the lake area. And being a retirement community, we have a growing population of citizens that need health care.”

While a majority of the instruction comes through Columbia College, Lake Regional Hospital, also located in Osage Beach, offers students a chance to engage in hands-on procedures through clinical training and in-class lectures. The health system also provided the school’s practical nursing skills lab, located right on campus, which allows students to perform simulated procedures and familiarize themselves with the same equipment nurses use every day.

Keeney credits a lot of the program’s success to Lake Regional.

“Our program could not exist without the support of Lake Regional,” he said. “Through their financial support we were able to build the nurse’s practical skills lab, which is a tremendous asset. It has been a great partnership.”

According to Keeney, since 2005 more than an estimated 200 nurses have passed through the program. A majority of these students soon acquired work with Lake Regional Hospital. Many chose to stay within the community.

“Lake Regional has been a tremendous partner, not only through the nursing program, but also for the college,” said Linda Claycomb, director of nursing for the Columbia College lake and main campus. “On top of the skills lab, Lake Regional has developed special programs that guarantee the nurses are trained before they accept their position. Most importantly, they have also been integral in providing us with clinical instructors. They know their hospital, which is a physical wealth of knowledge that helps our students perform more effectively.”

The first step for inspiring nurses is to pursue an associate of science degree. Upon completion, graduates become eligible to take the registered nursing exam. Keeney explained how to gain admission into this program.

It begins with a student taking pre-nursing classes, such as science, chemistry, biology and microbiology. These classes usually takes a year-and-a-half to complete. During this time the student must maintain a high grade point average and must pass a nursing aptitude test. Only then may they apply for the nursing program. Upon acceptance, they will begin taking nursing classes, working in the college’s skills lab and will begin clinical training at Lake Regional. This portion typically takes another year-and-a-half.

“It’s a pretty rigourous program,” explained Keeney. “We’re proud of it, but its demanding. It takes a tremendous amount of commitment and perseverance. But, if you’re ever in the hospital and one of our students begins taking care of you, you can feel confident they’re well trained.”

“We’ve come a long way,” said Claycomb. “We’re up for full approval by the Missouri State Board of Nursing in June, and our students are getting jobs, they’re getting placed and they’re in demand.”

Currently, Columbia College only offers an associate degree. Claycomb said one of the long-term goals is to begin offering a bachelor of science in nursing. She would also like to see more part-time masters prepared nursing faculty.

“The nursing profession is becoming very rigourous, with a lot of new technology and new medicine, but I believe we do a good job of producing better skilled nurses for the community,” she said.

One person who knows the program all too well is Columbia College alumni Lisa Valenti.

A 2006 graduate, Valenti was one of the program’s first participants and is now pursuing a doctorate of practical nursing degree at the University of Missouri Columbia. She said she became attracted to nursing because of the level of care her family received during the illness of her son, Austin.

“At the time, I wasn’t even thinking of becoming a nurse,” she explained. “But when I saw the kind of impact those nurses had in my life, how they took such good care of my son, and me, I knew that was the kind of impact I wanted to have.”

She began by taking classes to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, before transferring to Columbia College a year later and entering into the pre-nursing program. She was graduated from the program first in her class.

“This satellite campus was a God-send for me,” she said. “I began attending classes and attending clinicals and found the program to be challenging, but manageable. They offer firm instruction and a firm foundation, which is great because if you don’t get a good education from the beginning, it will affect how you succeed in the future. And with this profession, you need that firm foundation to be able to continue. Not everybody who is in the program wants to finish with just an associate’s degree. The great thing about Columbia College is that it allows an avenue, or springboard, to either continue this education or to enter the workforce.”

Valenti also credits a lot of her success to Lake Regional.

“They’re really student friendly,” she said. “They’re a teaching hospital and they let you get in and try things. They have a really great mentoring program.”

Beth Pettitt, R.N., BSN, BSBA, is Lake Regional Health System’s Nurse Mentor. It is her job, not only to oversee training of prospective nurses, but to provide an environment where students feel comfortable, relaxed and confident.

She also mentioned the nursing shortage and said one of the reasons the program began was to educate nurses locally and to provide for the community.

“This partnership has several benefits,” she said. It is a win-win opportunity that provides students with an opportunity to gain employment and the hospital a chance to maintain an ongoing flow of quality students coming into the work force. When you have a consistent number of qualified nurses it creates work force sustainability.”

Columbia College trains students to become registered nurses, with most choosing to move onto that next step. At the same time, the hospital offers hands-on training and teaches what it truly means to become a nurse.

“We get to know them and they get to know us,” Pettitt said.

Through the hospital’s Student Nurse Orientation Experience portion, students receive instruction in a clinical setting. This type of instruction includes a first-hand understanding of the hospital’s function, philosophy, mission, vision and values. There is also a big push towards making the students feel comfortable in the Lake Regional Health System environment.

“When a student nurse transitions into their new roles as a registered nurse, it is important for them to have a support system,” said Pettitt. “Fortunately, our organization nurtures these individuals. We want to make sure they are comfortable in their new environment. This creates quality patient care.”

They offer a lot of support to this college,” Valenti said. “When I went through the program they were offering a scholarship for 10 students, which guaranteed these students a job. I didn’t take the scholarship, but I believe the 10 who did are still working for Lake Regional.”