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Nursing Students at Clinical

Comm 260: Journalism
Erica Moreira Moura
Students identify and cover "beats" for news and feature stories. Most, but not all, are campus-oriented. Each has a thematic focus (e.g., health care, public safety, student activities, dorm life), with clearly identified informants who are cultivated for story ideas and used as sources.

Beat features explore a small slice of a larger story by painting a vivid portrait of a person, an organization or institution, or a particular activity or trend, and in so doing give us a deeper grasp of the larger story.  Students follow Associated Press style and are asked to produce error-free copy for publication in campus or other newspapers.

BOSTON—When a typical Simmons student has an eight-hour block of time, she usually dedicates it to meetings, homework, a meal, and perhaps chatting with some friends. For a nursing student, an eight-hour block usually means time for clinical.

While most students are either still asleep or just going to bed after an all-nighter, those in nursing often wake up at 5 o'clock to make sure they are on time for their clinical.

Simmons nursing students must fulfill a clinical experience requirement to graduate from the Nursing Program. This is equivalent to an internship—it is work experience in a medical institution.

Some say they choose the Simmons Nursing Program not only because of the exceptional clinical experience that it cultivates, but also for the chance to start it a year ahead of most colleges. Nursing students can work at well-established medial institutions; Brigham and Women's, Beth Israel, and Mass General Hospital are just a few on the list.

The College "know[s] that hands-on experience helps guarantee skilled, confident graduates," according to the Simmons clinical Web site. Through the example of skilled and confident graduates, Simmons has been able attract high school graduates interested in nursing.

Clinical experience starts in the first semester of a student's sophomore year when nurses are prepped on how to handle specific patient situations and how to become comfortable with themselves as nurses. A few weeks before Christmas break, the students go to local medical institutions to begin their professional nursing careers. Next, they are placed in medical institutions for a semester at a time.

Non-nursing majors often assume that nursing students do not have weighty or challenging responsibilities during clinical. "I just picture them going around, greeting the patients and serving as a liaison between the nurses and patients," says Leah Hanson, a junior majoring in Spanish and economics.

But nursing students walk in to the hospital, check patients' charts and then perform many routine tasks. These include: taking vital signs, giving medications, helping conduct physical assessments, checking diabetic levels, dressing wounds, giving injections, and asking about the personal habits of patients—including their sex life.

Elizabeth Leonard, a second-year nursing major, recalls asking one patient about her habits—from bathroom to sexual. She says the patient "was happy to tell me everything and didn't seem bothered by a 20-year old asking her these personal questions."

Nor are nursing students simply left alone to perform these routines. "My first goal with the students is to have them become comfortable with patients," says Susan Kilroy, a clinical instructor. "That's really hard for them at first, as they feel awkward. After that the goal is to have them develop skill in getting to know their patient, how to assess them, and to provide nursing care, including administering medications."

Nursing students are busy most of the time during clinical, and to them that is what makes it exciting. However, sometimes "the non-busy days are the best," says second-year nursing student Kayla Camara. "Even though I am not doing all the fun procedures and things, I get more time to talk to my patient and that is my favorite part."

It takes the students some time to feel comfortable in their position. Leonard says she remembers being afraid of forgetting everything she was taught and on the first day asking the instructor to come in with her to help her when speaking to her patient.

"In the beginning everything scared me," says Camara, "but now when I look back at what I know, what I've accomplished, and I look forward to what I can learn, there is no fear involved."

Students are not the only ones facing a challenge at the clinical. Kilroy says that it is a challenge for the instructors to know when to push them with more difficult tasks and to be available for all of them at the same time, but that it is exciting to see their growth over the course of the semester. "About halfway through, they begin to be more self-directed," she says.

"Week by week I have been getting more confident and comfortable doing the routine," says Leonard. Recently, she adds, "I asked the EMTs to step out of the room so that the patient could get settled and changed before they transported her back to her nursing home. They were taken aback by this nursing student ordering them around, but the patient thanked me."

"It's little things like reading what the patient is trying to say and helping the patient feel more comfortable in situations like that that shows me how much I've grown as a nurse," she says.

"The people who motivate me the most are my fellow nurses in clinical; they are just as nervous as I am, and we get though the ups and downs together," says Camara.