After the opening of a new Health and Life Sciences building at Anne Arundel Community College this past summer, the institution is ready to welcome up to 160 nursing students each semester, doubling its capacity compared with 2018.
The state and country are experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses in the workforce, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on medical and front-line workers.
Scott Olden, assistant dean for nursing, said one focus of the newly expanded program is diversity, equity and inclusion, which leads him to talk with people, including Black youth, who may not see health care as a viable option for their future. He said he encourages young people to venture beyond what they see in their local community and into the far-reaching fields of health and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
“They look at me and I say, ‘Yes, I’m a male nurse,’ ” said Olden, who is Black. “They have to look at me again and I let them know, ‘It’s OK. I make a lot of money. I have an independent practice, and it is a viable option.’ ”
Olden was called to nursing from a young age and called it a vocation of caring. He said there is nothing like helping a person become better.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean all the ailments are cured, but they have a different knowledge, and focus and desire to be better, and that’s half the battle,” he said.
Nursing professors Myra Dennis and Lisa Chamberlain said it is a challenge right now to find enough instructors to train new nurses, as academic institutions are competing with hospitals and medical practices for employees.
The new building at AACC has simulation centers that provide an experience for students nearly identical to a hospital. Air is flowing to devices in exam rooms, all the real hospital equipment is being used, and students can practice procedures and bedside manner on medical dummies and hired actors referred to as “standardized patients.”
While in reality students might let supervisors and those with more experience handle crises and emergencies, lab students in the simulation can practice dealing with those stress-inducing situations themselves, Dennis and Chamberlain said.
Olden said they have also focused on diversity when building the lab and for student experience, to make sure students are learning how symptoms present for people of various skin tones. When a person with lighter skin loses blood and starts turning pale, it can be seen throughout that person’s face; whereas for Black patients, that is not possible and therefore a nurse should look at the person’s lips or other signals, Olden said.
At AACC they have medical dummies with different skin tones so students can practice those variations in care.
When working with actors, instructors can watch from a control room and feed dialogue to the actor through an ear piece. They create different scenarios ahead of time to challenge students with. Everything is recorded, and students are briefed before and debriefed after exercises to discuss their performance.
Justin Gyurik, director of lab and simulation education, said an upcoming sepsis scenario will have no possible outcome where the patient lives. It is the real-life nursing version of the Kobayashi Maru training exercise from “Star Trek,” forcing students to face a no-win situation.
“We talk about it and students can go way saying, ‘You know, it was just a mannequin,’ ” Olden said.
Students are also challenged to think about the factors that will affect a patient’s care once they leave the medical practice, such as an ability to pay for medication.
“We are trying to help students understand what we’re actually seeing in real life,” Olden said.