Cover photo: HCC radiologic technology student Amy Bulger.
Howard Community College introduced a registered nursing program in 1972, just two years after opening its doors, that has grown into one of the largest in the state. Today, the college’s health sciences division offers 12 credit programs in addition to registered nursing. Dr. Georgene Butler, division chair and professor of nursing, shares information about these programs and what contributes to their success.
Q. How does HCC determine what health sciences programs to offer students?
A. As a community college, we prepare our students to meet workforce needs and career goals in a very affordable and expedient way. We conduct surveys to assess the needs of the local community, study Maryland’s forecast for the health care industry, tap into the U.S. Department of Labor’s workforce projections, and consider recommendations from the Commission on the Future of HCC to determine which programs we will focus on at a particular time. For example, we are addressing projected workforce shortages as we prepare to offer four additional programs when our new health sciences building opens in 2013: medical diagnostic sonography, medical laboratory technician, dental hygienist, and physical therapist assistant.
Q. There is a continuous waiting list to get into HCC’s nursing program. What makes HCC such a great place to study nursing?
A. In nursing, we are forerunners in creative programming and scheduling options for students. We were the first in the state to offer an accelerated nursing program, which consists of 14 months of continuous course work that prepares a student to become a registered nurse (RN). Our traditional nursing program prepares students to be registered nurses over a two-year period. Both programs utilize classroom experience, simulated laboratory activities, and clinical assignments, and are equally rigorous. Graduates are eligible for direct transfer to selected baccalaureate nursing programs in Maryland.
We offer an 11-month certificate program for students who want to be licensed practical nurses (LPN) as well as a bridge program for LPNs who want to be RNs. We even created an innovative career ladder program, RENEW, for those who want to become a nurse but may not have the means to do so.
Another aspect of our program that is unique for a community college is our emphasis on encouraging students to learn how to get involved in policy making. When I was a practicing nurse and then began teaching, I found that nurses were not trained to represent themselves when state and federal governments were developing health care and employment policies. We train our students in leadership, delegation, advocacy, and teach them how to make effective presentations.
Q. What distinguishes the health sciences areas of study?
A. HCC offers a wide range of programs that we are constantly updating and enhancing in order to respond to workplace requirements and needs. For example, we’re in the process of expanding cardiovascular technology (CVT) to include electrical physiology. All of our programs offer a variety of support options to help our students be successful, such as group and individual tutoring sessions, faculty mentoring, and experience in the use of holistic relaxation techniques at our Kaiser Permanente Wellness Center.
An innovation that will be used throughout our programs as we move forward is interdisciplinary learning that prepares students for situations they will experience in the work environment.
For example, we recently created a learning scenario that allowed emergency medical technician/paramedic (EMT/P) students to take a patient from the emergency scene to the hospital, where nursing students take over.
We are fortunate to be located in an area that has some of the most outstanding health care facilities in the nation. Our students benefit from the experience of our full-time and adjunct faculty members and from opportunities to gain clinical experience in many of these renowned institutions.
Q. How would you describe the students enrolled in these programs?
A. Our students are very motivated. Some are pursuing their first college degree, and others are mid-career, such as hospital administrators and educators, who come back to take specific classes. Many of our students are doing double duty as they continue to work and go to school to transition to a new career.
The average age of our health sciences credit students is 29. About 40 percent of those now enrolled in the nursing program are minority students, and that is a little higher in the other health sciences programs.
I am proud to report that our LPN and RN students have one of the highest first-time pass rates in the state, well above the national average – at 100 percent and 93.7 percent respectively – on the national licensing test every nurse must take. In addition, our cardiovascular technology students have a 100 percent pass rate, paramedics are at 89 percent, and 90 percent of our radiologic technology students pass their certification exam.
Q. What support do community partnerships provide?
A. Partnerships are extremely important to the health sciences programs because they provide the hands-on experience that is a critical part of the learning process for our students. We have cultivated solid partnerships with health agencies in Howard and surrounding counties, and because our program is so large, we have affiliations across the state. For example, the cardiovascular technology program has a unique partnership with Washington Hospital Center, where our students have a clinical experience, and their employees enroll in our program.
A variety of scholarship awards and endowments are available to health sciences students through the HCC Educational Foundation, Inc., including:
Dorothy A. and Alva S. Baker, Jr. Endowment
We also have an important affiliation with Howard County General Hospital, which has been very generous in supplying us with clinical placements for our programs. Other institutions have also been wonderful to our school, including hospitals, independent providers such as Advanced Radiology for radiologic technology students, and the Howard County and Baltimore City fire departments, which allow our EMT/P students to participate in a ride-along program.
The Mid-Maryland Allied Healthcare Education Consortium is another of our partnerships. To maximize resources and provide additional programs for students, we have an agreement with Carroll and Frederick Community Colleges. Soon the three community colleges will share a facility in Mount Airy, thanks to a federal grant. The Center will offer classes in respiratory care, anatomy, physiology and microbiology, and courses for medical lab technicians and EMT/Ps, as well as continuing education noncredit nursing and allied health courses.
Q. What is coming next for health sciences education at HCC?
A. Our goals are to expand what we currently offer to meet community needs and, first and foremost, to provide the support students need to graduate and join the workforce. We also want to increase the financial assistance options available. We took a major step in that direction this June when we held our first major fundraising event for nursing – a dinner hosted by Jill and Pat McCuan featuring renowned neurosurgeon and author
Dr. Ben Carson as the keynote speaker – and raised $146,000 to endow nursing scholarships.
Last spring, we broke ground on a new state-of-the-art health sciences building that will provide much needed additional space to expand the size and number of our programs and to add many new simulation options. At orientation, I tell the students that it’s an exciting time to be entering a health sciences career, with great prospects for a promising future!
During the 2010-2011 academic year, 2,891 students enrolled in one or more of 204 sections of HCC’s nursing and allied health continuing education classes. "HCC pharmacy technician training provided knowledgeable and caring instructors, relevant classes, and hands-on externships that prepared me well for the workplace," says Caroline Irungu, who is now working as a pharmacy technician.
A wide range of open enrollment noncredit courses is available in the health care arena, including certified nursing assistant, basic EKG training, refresher nursing, pharmacy technician training, medical billing and coding, and introduction to dental assisting.
"We are responding to a community need by providing entry-level training for those people who want immediate access to the workforce, and providing professional updates for those who want to advance in their field or meet certification requirements," says JoAnn Hawkins, associate vice president of the division of continuing education and workforce development.
According to Hawkins, HCC continuing education also serves the health care community by customizing courses for hospitals, agencies, and businesses – for example, the University of Maryland Medical System, the Howard County Public School System, and the Veterans Administration – to meet a specific need they might have.
"We respond very rapidly to the need to get a new course up and running, whether it is necessary as a result of a new certification or licensing requirement, a shortage of a specific type of health care professional, or at the request of an employer," says Hawkins.
Making a Difference to Patients and Families
Danica Lyon has wanted to be a nurse for a long time. Why a nurse? "I am a hands-on person. I like knowing that I can make a difference in a patient’s day and serve as an advocate for both patients and their families," she says.
Lyon was an LPN working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for eight years, when she started looking for a bridge program to become an RN. "HCC has an excellent reputation. The school has an amazingly high pass rate on the licensure exams, and when you are finished going to school here – you are ready to work."
"One of the ingredients that makes our nursing program so strong is the support we provide our students," says Donna Minor, associate division chair and director of nursing. "We offer mentoring, tutoring, and study groups. And we provide flexibility in scheduling that our working students really appreciate."
As a student in the LPN to RN pathway program, Lyon says she found the faculty to be readily available and very responsive. "They prepared me well for every clinical cycle and specialty," says Lyon. "I value the confidence I gained by practicing with the simulation patients available at HCC. They are so real, they even say ‘ouch.’"
Lyon hopes to transfer to a four-year baccalaureate program and eventually get a master of science in nursing degree – all while she is working as an RN. "My goal is to be a certified registered nurse anesthetist," she says. "After observing in the intensive care unit at Howard County General Hospital, I realize this would be an awesome way to use critical thinking skills and make decisions that can really help people and impact their lives."