Nursing’s popularity has perks, drawbacks

Joel Basco never imagined his junior year would be so busy.

Or strenuous.

“At the start of the day, I have to get up at 5 a.m., and before I even go to the medical campus, I have to account for pre-assessment from the day before,” the nursing major said. “I am assigned a patient, and I have to know everything on their charts about them and their medication. Then, when I get there, I have to account for any changes, do all of my daily tasks and give medication at the scheduled times.

“They say that junior year is the hardest year in nursing school, and I am definitely experiencing that right now,” Basco added.

Despite the long hours, high expectations and often demanding work, the nursing profession has recently experienced an increase of students like Basco who are eager to attend medical school. Thousands of people throughout the United States are responding to the nursing profession’s well-publicized shortage.

According to a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away 26,340 applicants in 2004, an increase of 25 percent from the previous year. The VCU School of Nursing has reaped the benefits of this newfound surge in popularity. Record numbers of nursing students are arriving at VCU’s Medical Center campus – so many, in fact, that the school is having trouble accommodating them.

Lauren Goodloe, clinical associate professor at the School of Nursing, said the medical schools have done a good job of advertising the need for nurses but less so in providing the professors to teach them.

“Anyone that watches television or reads the paper has seen that there is a long and deep nursing shortage, and as a result, the applicant pool has gone way up,” Goodloe said. “We have done a great job of telling people what a great profession this is and that the need is there.

“What we haven’t been so great at doing is solving the problem of having so many students when we just don’t have the capacity for all of them,” she said. “The student-faculty ratio is severely unbalanced. You cannot take 100 and some odd students into an observatory, when you only have enough faculty to observe 10. Hospitals can only tolerate so many groups, and we just don’t have the ability to hold them all.”

Junior nursing student Emily Veilleux said she is experiencing the strain of an overcrowded student population that she believes is interfering with the quality of education at the school.

“It definitely has an effect on the clinical portions of the program,” she said. “Since there are so many students and so little faculty, they can’t be there for every student that is tending to a patient.”

For some students, help will come in the form of a new School of Nursing building that is currently being constructed on the Medical Center campus at Leigh and 11th streets. For Goodloe, this undertaking can only produce positive results for the program.

“This new school will only increase enrollment,” she said. “The students are going to gain a good learning environment, (and) we have a new auditorium and wireless Internet access.”

In addition to these enhancements, the facility will also contain state-of-the-art equipment to help the nursing students gain a sense of the profession before going into the field. According to the School of Nursing Web site, the new facility will allow students to practice on sophisticated human-patient simulators, which are dummy patients that can simulate being afflicted with various diseases and conditions. Goodloe believes that this new clinical stimulation lab will provide valuable experience for those in the nursing program.

“All of this equipment is going to be an invaluable asset in helping the students become seasoned,” Goodloe said. “The direction the curriculum is taking is to move toward simulated patient experience before moving to the (hospital) floor.”

Basco said he is excited about the new changes and believes the building of the school signifies a rise in the status of not only VCU’s nursing school but the profession as a whole.

“Health care is probably the next job fad, like the technology boom, and demand is high right now because of the baby boomers getting older,” Basco said. “Once they become sick, they’re going to need people to take care of them.”

Goodloe said nursing’s recognition has increased. The occupation, however, still is not receiving all the support it deserves, she said.

“I think that we still need to be more influential in the political arena,” Goodloe said. “With legislation and politics, I feel like they haven’t really given that much attention to (issues affecting the nursing profession). For example, we haven’t seen federal dollars rewarding nursing education, which I think is long overdue.

“Unfortunately, with most things, it probably won’t mean much to the legislators until it hits close to home for them, and they’re lying in bed needing a nurse by their bedside,” she added.

Even with all the trials and triumphs facing potential nurses in the future, high-tech school or not, Basco said it’s not the experience with modern gadgetry that motivates him.

“All the work can be difficult sometimes, but for me it’s all about being able to help someone who needs it,” he said. “Even though they may not know your name, the patients will always remember your care and you being there for them in their time of need. That kind of experience sticks in your mind forever.”

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