Powell healthcare facilities not suffering nursing shortage

Posted 6/23/09

The college works in partnership with Powell Valley Heathcare, as well as West Park Hospital, to train students in the NWC nursing program. Those partnerships, according to Theresa Karter, director of the Northwest College nursing program, …

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Powell healthcare facilities not suffering nursing shortage


{gallery}02_12_09/nursingstudent{/gallery}Rani Riley, a nursing student at Northwest College, settles in for a night of studying after eating dinner with her family. Tribune photo by Kara Bacon For more photos click here Despite a shortage of nurses in Wyoming, Powell Valley Healthcare is not having trouble filling nursing positions.“We're actually in pretty good shape,” said Rod Barton, Powell Valley Healthcare CEO. “(It's) partly because we train our own (through Northwest College.)”

The college works in partnership with Powell Valley Heathcare, as well as West Park Hospital, to train students in the NWC nursing program. Those partnerships, according to Theresa Karter, director of the Northwest College nursing program, “extend to all of their acute care services in the hospitals, home health and hospice, clinics, case management services, (West Park Hospital's) Cedar Mountain (Center) and their long-term care facilities.”

Affiliations with Park County Public Health, and a school-nurse rotation in both Cody and Powell, further benefit the college's nursing students.

“It's easier to recruit nurses if you've had a chance to work with them, and vice versa,” added Barton.

Karter also said the college program has increased student numbers over the last several years.

“We took 32 students in 2007 and 40 in the fall of 2008. Before that, we just (accepted) 24. It's increasing every year,” she said. “We also started an LPN (licensed practical nurse) program in January 2007.”

Prior to 2007, the LPN degree was a spinoff of the RN program, Karter said. “After the first year, students could take their (board tests) and become LPN's.”

The third class in the LPN program began courses this semester.

Barton added that the Legislature's Wyoming Investment in Nursing program, which was funded in 2003, also has helped to address the state's nursing shortage. The program offers loans to students accepted into both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs at the University of Wyoming as well as the state's six community colleges. Students repay the loans by working in the state for a certain period of time after graduation, usually three to five years, depending on the amount of the loan.

Karter and Barton agreed that many NWC nursing students are non-traditional students with roots here, which makes the Investment in Nursing program especially appealing. Other students are looking for a second career.

“We even have some men who worked in the oil fields,” Karter said.

Added Barton, “Some are not from the area, but, for the most part, people grow to like it.”

Barton said the nursing home is the one exception.

“The nursing home is a different environment. Patients never get better, it's a chronic situation. There's a lot more turnover there,” he said. “It's a very challenging position.”

Riley epitomizes the Northwest nursing student

Rani Riley's eyes sparkle when she talks about her upcoming graduation from nursing school. For the 39-year-old mother of two teenage boys, ages 16 and 18, it's been a long time coming.

“We moved here in 1993. In 1994, I started looking for a job,” she said. “I saw an ad for the Long Term Care Center in Cody, that you could train on the job.”

She became a certified nursing assistant, and “I fell in love with nursing and the people. I decided that was what I wanted to do.”

During her 11 years at West Park Hospital, she worked in the nursing home, as well as in the medical-surgical unit, the emergency room and in surgical services.

“It was like I couldn't get enough,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do more. I wanted more of the complete patient care.”

Riley originally enrolled in the Northwest College nursing program in 1996. She went through all of her prerequisites, but then she and her first husband got a divorce.

“I had to quit. I got remarried in 2002, and I started again,” she sighed. “I had to do all the prerequisites over again.”

Her husband, Terry, who owns a local roofing business, has supported her throughout her years as a student.

“I think of the people in our class who are single moms with 2- and 4-year-old kids ... and I don't know how they do it without the support of a husband,” Riley said.

According to Riley, she's also had to give up a lot along the way.

“The time I had with my family has been hard. I've really had to sacrifice my time with them. There are times when I feel like my husband has to do more of the parenting.”

Riley, like most of the other nursing students in the NWC program, is a non-traditional student with roots in the community.

“When I went back to school, it was close to my oldest son's graduation,” she said. “He didn't want to move, so for me, going to another college was not an option.”

Since Riley plans to stay in the area after graduation, the Wyoming Investment in Nursing program will pay for the expenses she's incurred in school — she must continue to work in Wyoming for two years to receive the full benefits.

If all goes according to plan, Riley will graduate from NWC in May, with all the qualifications to become a registered nurse — she'll take her board exams soon after. She hopes to get a job at West Park Hospital after graduation, saying, “It's where I feel at home, since I worked there so long.”