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'Part of the solution:' CHCS mentors nursing students

Healthcare staff shortages have made nationwide news as the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on for nearly two years. Here in northeast Kansas, Community HealthCare System is doing all it can to help the next generation of nurses gain experience.

Several different schools send students to Onaga Community Hospital and Community HealthCare System clinics for clinical experience or observation, including Washburn University School of Nursing, Highland Community College Medical Assistant Program, and Nightingale College School of Nursing. According to Chief Nursing Officer Mindy Olberding, a critical access hospital is a good environment for students who are having their first clinical experience.

“Here at CHCS, students can see a wide variety of nursing services. They usually have the opportunity to observe nursing care in the emergency room, hospital, Birth Center, surgery, cardiac stress testing, cardiopulmonary rehab, radiology, and lab, plus clinic nursing,” Olberding said.

First-year students from Washburn come for two 8-hour hospital observation days during a semester. Advanced students who are in their last semester also come and complete quality improvement projects and reports. These students learn how nurses can play a role in improving patient care through LEAN methodology, and CHCS often implements the students’ recommendations. Other students from Washburn visit CHCS to complete clinical hours for a 6-week period during which they work alongside a floor nurse and care for patients under direct supervision. These capstone experiences ensure that students are ready to make the transition to their nursing career.

At the clinic level, CHCS has also partnered with Washburn School of Nursing at both baccalaureate and doctorate levels to provide clinic rotations in rural family medicine. CHCS clinics in Holton, Centralia, and Onaga host baccalaureate-level nurses through the RENEW grant project, a federally funded award to Washburn by the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA. Merica Surdez, chief of provider and clinic operations, said a similar rotation for bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, students in primary care is not provided in most nursing programs.

“The grant allows students to see the full spectrum of family practice from an outpatient perspective. It’s a truly great experience,” Surdez said.

Clinics also host doctorate-level students through a new BEWELL grant project (funded through HRSA’s Advanced Nursing Education Workforce program) partnership with Washburn. Two students have visited CHCS clinics in Holton and St. Marys through BEWELL so far. Michele Reisinger, CHCS advanced practice nurse practitioner and member of the Washburn nursing faculty, said this experience offers a window into the nature of rural healthcare for students.

“As a grant practice partner with Washburn University, Doctorate of Nursing Practice students are gaining valuable precepted learning opportunities in CHCS’s Rural Health Clinics. These experiences foster awareness of rural primary care as an option for employment in the advanced practice workforce upon graduation,”  Reisinger said.

Surdez said finding quality preceptors for doctorate students is challenging.

“As a nurse practitioner myself, I really enjoy being able to meet the need of providing a preceptor to these students, and I know ours are committed to helping students prepare and to offering a high-quality experience,” Surdez said.

Highland Community College recently brought a medical assistant group to CHCS to see the facility and learn what hospital care looks like. Along with the hospital, the group visited Access Services, registration, lab, and Onaga Clinic. Nightingale College will bring a group of students for clinical experience in March. Students will spend four or five 12-hour days providing patient care with supervision.

Although establishing these collaborations takes time and resources, Olberding said that she and her staff value the opportunity to help prepare new nurses.

“We cannot help the nursing and healthcare professional shortage if we are not willing to be part of the solution by having students come to our facility to get the experience they need,” she said.

According to Olberding, encouraging others is part of the profession.

"Healthcare is one of the very unique professions where you directly impact a life every day you come to work. We get to see our patients overcome obstacles that often seem impossible, and sharing our love for caring for others can help encourage the students to seek a career in healthcare. The nurses really enjoy having the student here to learn about what we do,” she said. 

Photo caption: Three first-year Washburn nursing students who recently visited Onaga Community Hospital for clinical experience are, left to right: Kelsie Flickinger, Angel Lopez, and Katherine Stegman. All three students are pursing a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a Registered Nurse credential.


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