Caring for the Community
ILLUSTRATION: CARLO GIAMBARRESI
“I know all my patients by name. I had a patient whose two daughters would come and visit her every day. I was at the mall one day and saw the two daughters. . . . It touched my heart that they remembered me and that their mom was doing so well,” says Trecya Jordan, AA ’16, who received her nursing degree from Howard Community College.
“I love the fact that I can impact people in my own community and then see them outside the hospital and they are doing so much better. They are in my heart forever, and my patients become like family.” Jordan was always drawn to medicine and would watch medical television shows with her mother. When it was time to choose a college, Howard Community College’s proximity to her home made it the best choice. “I am an only child, so I wanted to stay close to home. I’m shy, too, so I did not want to attend a big institution. I saved so much money in tuition, didn’t have to pay for room and board, and I could enjoy a hot meal at home for free.”After graduating, Jordan landed a job at Howard County General Hospital and works in the cardiac catheter lab — right down the street from HCC.
Caring for the community has its roots in the program’s founding. “Our nursing program had a pivotal place in Howard County when it started in 1972, and we have an even greater role to play today,” says Dr. Georgene A. Butler, R.N., C.N.E., dean of health sciences at HCC. “When our program started, it was a call to educate and train more nurses, and today, we need more frontline nurses than ever before.”
Butler adds that the ongoing nursing shortage is compounded by a need for more nurse educators so that nursing programs can admit more students. “There are special skills required to teach the critical thinking and reasoning skills necessary to be a good nurse.”
A Storied History
In 1968, Fern Hamel moved to Columbia with her husband and children. She had previously worked in advertising but wanted a new career that would better fit her life as a young mother.
“I found an advertisement that HCC was starting a new nursing program. There were five of us from the group of original pioneers who came together to form the nursing education program’s first class. We participated in spring orientation programs for newly accepted nursing students, shared information and perceptions about the program and encouraged younger girls to join,” Hamel recalls.
She earned her associate degree, completed the state board challenge exams, and became a registered nurse (R.N.) As an R.N. at Howard County General Hospital, she worked closely with the person in charge of the nursing students who came to the hospital for their clinical studies. “Together we identified the students’ educational needs and assigned them to patients to help them gain experience for their clinical education, which allowed them to progress through the nursing program,” says Hamel.
Dr. Butler says that one of the biggest changes she’s seen in HCC’s nursing program is the changing demographics. “At HCC, we have a large number of students who are minorities. . . it’s a nice mixture of people from different backgrounds, cultures and races. It reflects the demographics of Howard County, which is important so that patients see health care workers who look like them,” she says. Dr. Butler adds that while the nursing program has seen an increase in the number of male students, she would still like to see more.
“Technology has had the greatest impact on nursing since our program started,” says Dr. Butler. “ [It] has also made nurses more efficient, as data and lab tests can be shared instantly and electronically across various departments. Nurses are part of a large health care team, so it’s important that they can collaborate with other colleagues.” Dr. Butler adds that the current pandemic has made technology more important than ever. “Telemedicine has been a game changer to making medical advice and treatment more accessible from home.”
Addressing workforce needs
Demand to be admitted into HCC’s nursing program has remained consistently high. “HCC has a great reputation for producing quality nurses.” Dr. Butler notes that HCC was the first school in the state of Maryland to launch an accelerated nursing program. “Then, in 1992, we launched the evening/weekend program for nursing because many students work fulltime and need the option to go to class at night or on weekends.”
When HCC built the new Health Sciences Building in 2013, it allowed the college to add four new health sciences programs – medical lab technician, physical therapy assistant, dental hygiene, and diagnostic medical sonography.
Michael Cieplak, AAS ’16, who already had a master’s degree from Towson University, was working as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins University when he decided to make a bold career change.
“I was practically living in a lab calibrating microscopes and working on other equipment for seven years. . . I really need to be around people, so I decided to enroll in HCC’s dental hygiene program,” explained Cieplak, whose uncle has a dental practice. “I looked at a couple of other schools, but I liked how, as a new program, HCC would have all the newest equipment. Also, it was very affordable to earn my degree at HCC.”
He went on to serve as class president and graduated from the program’s first graduating class.
Like most health care workers today, Cieplak recognizes the risk he is taking with the coronavirus pandemic, but he believes that his field has always taken extraordinary precautions. “When you are dealing with people’s mouths, you have to be careful, and dental hygienists are experienced in safety protocols,” he says.
Hamel has been a long-time supporter of HCC’s nursing program. She recalls when a friend approached her husband, Ed, with a challenge that he would match any gift her husband made to the Howard Community College Educational Foundation (HCCEF). “Ed accepted the challenge and made his first donation to HCCEF and formed a scholarship fund designated to support nursing students at HCC. This scholarship fund still exists today,” Hamel says.
“Earning my nursing degree changed my life. If I did not go to HCC, I would not have been given the opportunity to have a successful career,” says Jordan. “I am so grateful to HCC, and I tell everyone I know that HCC is a gem. I recently convinced a family member to go to HCC for cybersecurity. I tell people, ‘You can go to a community college and have a successful career. Just look at me!’”