OLEAN — Nursing students at Jamestown Community College’s Cattaraugus County Campus are getting inside information about patient care during the coronavirus pandemic.
These details aren’t coming from guest speakers, but rather from people they know: their teachers.
Five of JCC’s seven nursing instructors still work part-time in the profession after lengthy careers in nursing. Combined, they have nearly 175 years of professional experience and nearly 100 years in college-level teaching.
One of the JCC faculty, Heather Burrell, has worked at Olean General Hospital since 1996 on a per diem basis — that is, she’s not on the official schedule but works as needed or when she wants.
“A big portion of my experience has been as an operating room nurse,” said Burrell, who lives in Franklinville. She joined JCC’s nursing faculty in 2011.
“I use a lot of storytelling when I teach students,” Burrell said. “Continuing to work as a nurse makes me a better teacher. Students relate to the stories better,” she continued.
One of her colleagues, Laura Williams, continues to work part-time at Olean General, where she began in 1990.
“I love nursing. I’ve done it my entire life,” said Williams, a Scio resident. She has been teaching at JCC for 13 years.
“The last two weekends I worked in the intensive care unit,” Williams said. With coronavirus restrictions, “There’s no patient visitation. There’s no family at their bedside. You are their rock.”
Graduates of JCC’s nursing program provide additional perspectives.
Jennifer Visbisky, who oversees the nursing program in Olean, said, “We have graduates who are working all over the country. They keep us apprised of what’s going on out there in healthcare.”
Some graduates are working in what she called “hot spots” like New York City. “They’re all saying the same thing: This has changed them,” Visbisky said. “They know they need to be there for their patients more than ever, because their families can’t be present.”
Through her experience, Williams knows nursing “takes a very large toll on the person who’s providing the caring. There are many challenges,” including long hours and time away from families and loved ones “so you can care for other people’s loved ones.”
In addition, said Burrell, “There’s a lot of physical strain: long shifts, being on your feet continually, meeting the needs of multiple patients.” Nurses also develop an emotional attachment to patients. “You feel that pain along with them when they’re not having a good day,” she said.
It’s much worse when a patient dies. “When you put all of your heart and efforts into caring for a patient and the outcome is not what you wanted — that’s hard, especially when you can see the patient declining right in front of you.”
For Williams, “Another one of the hardest parts is individuals who are unhappy with everything. No matter what you do, it doesn’t seem to soothe the situation.” She said in those cases, she reminds herself she doesn’t know what stresses the patient is dealing with in the hospital or at home.
“They can have so many other things going on,” she said. “You have to keep it in perspective.”
For nurses, “It is really hard to be verbally abused,” said Williams. “It is really hard to be physically abused — being pinched, being bitten, being punched, or being grabbed inappropriately. These are not things that are few and far between.” Some patients, though, are unaware of what they’re doing, she said.
Nursing students need to know those aspects of the profession, she added. But the challenges aren’t deterring future nurses. JCC’s nursing program has a low attrition rate, as well as a waiting list for students who want to be admitted.
Maria Kindberg, dean of arts, humanities, health sciences, and athletics at JCC, said JCC administrators decided a few years ago that there were “too many qualified students in the community that we weren’t able to seat in the program.”
As a result, JCC increased the number of nursing students by 40% in Olean and 20% in Jamestown, resulting in a combined enrollment of around 160. This was done without hiring additional faculty.
“There were some concerns, but no complaining or grumbling,” Kindberg said. “They wanted to make sure they could deliver the curriculum effectively. I’m just so impressed they approached that concern as a challenge.”
Expanding class sizes helps address the nationwide shortage of nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges for Nurses, “Nursing schools across the country are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care given the national move toward healthcare reform.”
The American Nurses Association’s website states, “With more than 500,000 seasoned RNs anticipated to retire by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new RNs for expansion and replacement of retirees, and to avoid a nursing shortage.”
Kathy Taydus, JCC’s director of nursing education, suggests most students decide to study nursing for reasons other than landing a job.
“I believe it’s a calling,” Taydus said. “Nurses don’t make a lot of money, but there’s a great deal of job satisfaction.”