Saving lives through education and experience

(Shannon Patrick)

Anna Gleason

Kelly McCartney, 19, nursing, came to Saddleback with high hopes of joining the nursing program; little did she know it would be so much work. Two to three hours of extra work per day is just a taste of what nursing students must commit to for prerequisite classes.

“It takes a lot of work outside of school, a lot of extra hours studying, on top of what your normal homework is,” McCartney said. “Because we want to get the best grades we possibly can, I go to the library after every microbiology class with my friend Nicole just to ensure that we’ll get our work done for that day and not fall behind.”

Students interested in the program must complete four prerequisite classes before applying. English 1A, microbiology, human physiology, and anatomy courses must be completed with a “C” or better.

“They [classes] are all standardized,” Tammy Rice, interim dean of health sciences, human services, said. “A person that started at Saddleback College but maybe got transferred can continue on at another community college without having to take extra courses.”

In the past few years, the program has gone away from a waitlist-based entry to more merit-based.

“Our waitlist was getting huge,” Rice said. “People would cycle through two or three times and their biology [classes] would be very old, so we decided to go to a more merit-based system.”

Of those applying to the program, 75 percent will be awarded a spot based on a review of their biology grades and their over-all GPA. The remaining 25 percent will be put into a lottery and chosen at random for the program. This system ensures all eligible students a potential spot within the program.

“If you have a 2.5 GPA, you can apply,” Rice said. “They [applicants] go into a pot, we pull the lottery people out, and then we take it from there.”

Many students apply to more than one nursing program, so alternate applicants are pulled from the lottery as well.

After an applicant is accepted, they are put into a conditional acceptance category. Students must complete the Test of Essential Academic Skills, or TEAS test. This test helps to score applicants basic skills in math, reading, English and science. Students must complete the exam with a passing grade of 67 percent or higher. If students do not receive a passing grade, they will be given a list a remedial classes to take. Students have one year to take the classes and repeat the exam. If a passing grade is achieved, they are automatically admitted into the program with no need to re-apply.

“We offer the test through Assessment Testing Inc.,” Rice said. “The state Legislature decided we had too much attrition in nursing and we needed to give a pre-test.”

In addition to meeting prerequisite requirements and earning a passing grade on the TEAS test, applicants must be at least 18 years old at the time of admission, have a physical exam within three months of admission and have a clean bill of health, and complete a personal background check within a month of admission.

Many of the instructors at Saddleback are full-time staff members with an exception of a few part-time instructors.

“Everyone who teaches is clinically current,” Rice said. “Their [instructors] skills are very up to date, and they really know their content.”

Once out of the program, students must take the National Licenser Exam in order to become a registered nurse, or RN. From there, they may enter any entry-level position as a RN.

“About 80 percent of our students go into acute care hospitals such as Mission Hospital,” Rice said. “Some people choose to go to urgent care or ambulatory settings.”

With the growing demand for clinical time and nursing degrees, Saddleback has partnered with the Advanced Technology and Education Park. ATEP, in conjunction with Saddleback, plans to expand the nursing program and build a regional simulation laboratory.

The program has already grown from 44 students to 60 within the last year. The surge in popularity has necessitated additional clinical training opportunities.

“Sometimes patients are stable and nothing happens,” Tere Fluegeman, director of public information and marketing at ATEP said. “The simulator allows the staff to give examples of real events.”

The simulation lab would give students a chance to learn from real-life situations with the help of a computer and animated dummy. These simulations help to give students more practice on aspects they may not see in the field such as pediatric care. Saddleback has one simulation lab on campus, and opening another would help students earn their clinical hours. Within the past year, University of California at Irvine, Concordia, California State University at Fullerton, and West Coast University, have all started nursing programs, causing hospital space to become a premium. With the addition of the ATEP simulator, Saddleback’s nursing program will try and work together with the four-year universities to ensure students a place to practice their skills.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE (Shannon Patrick / Lariat archives)