Students Boosted By Summer Nursing Program Partnerships

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With the nursing profession constantly challenged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing students at Dominican University of California this past summer took a big step toward providing reinforcements by supporting a pair of real-life, hands-on programs – Kaiser Permanente Work Study and QuickStart through MarinHealth.

“I am so incredibly grateful for this experience,” says Ally Vergara ‘22, who was assigned to the Surgical Team during her summer stint with MarinHealth, formerly known as Marin General Hospital.

“I got to have an immersive experience in the field I aspire to be in, and I believe having had this exposure and training during nursing school will help me be closer to my goals after graduation. It was wonderful that Dominican provided us with this opportunity to continue to learn during our summer break and make great use of our time.”

Boosted by a generous donation by Susan and Dennis Gilardi, Dominican's nursing program entered into a collaboration with MarinHealth this past spring to increase the number of Dominican nursing graduates employed by MarinHealth. Ally was one of 14 Dominican nursing students selected to participate in either the MarinHealth or Kaiser Permanente summer programs in a variety of field specialties. Emma Leamon ’22, for example, worked in the Maternal-Child Health unit at Kaiser in her hometown of Modesto and Gillian Day ’22, who is from Windsor, worked at Kaiser San Rafael in the Nursing Education Department.

“My experience this summer was so awesome and even though I want to do bedside nursing and specialize in pediatric oncology, I gained so much knowledge behind the scenes. I was able to experience so many things I normally would not get the chance to see or learn,” Gillian says. “I am so beyond grateful for all the nurses, doctors, patients, and my coworkers that helped improve my confidence, knowledge base, skills and all the support I received that will be transferred into my career.”

Emma’s goal is to return to Modesto and do what she was doing this summer.

“I had the opportunity to gain more experience in labor and delivery, which is the nursing specialty I am passionate about,” Emma says. “One of the most valuable aspects of this internship was that I had the ability to work consistently for 10 weeks in an environment that made me feel even more confident to enter the nursing profession.”

Dr. Margaret Fink, professor and associate director of nursing at Dominican for more than 22 years, says the advantage Dominican students have is establishing close relationships with preceptors. Nurse preceptors support nursing students new to a unit by providing useful feedback, setting learning objectives, teaching hospital protocols, and encouraging clinical judgment.

“I think the most valuable clinical semester in the program is the last one where students work one-on-one with a staff registered nurse. Our 61 December graduates are just starting their preceptor experience this fall. We have an intensive, hands-on experience set for each one of them. All of the upcoming December students will be in hospitals, clinics, or homecare settings. It’s a bridge transition to being on your own,” Fink says. “The main thing I try to drive into the students’ minds is that it’s the relationship with the preceptor that matters the most, not the site. It’s about having a preceptor that trusts you. They are the ultimate teachers for you.”

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Dominican has been involved in the Kaiser Work Study program for 17 years. This summer seven DU nursing students participated, four with San Rafael Kaiser in Terra Linda. Emma requested and was assigned to Kaiser Modesto where she grew up and graduated from Central Catholic High School and chose Dominican where, she says, “I have been placed in hospitals that have excellently facilitated the connection between nursing theory and practice.”

In the Maternal-Child Health unit at Kaiser Permanente in Modesto, Emma’s responsibilities included head-to-toe assessments of mothers and newborns, fetal heart monitoring, and establishing a rapport with her patients. Working with her preceptor, she gained insight on how nurses establish priorities, implement evidence-based practice, and keep patients at the center of nursing care.

Gillian, who graduated from Windsor High School, worked closely at Kaiser San Rafael with a Clinical Nurse Specialist, CNS, and helped lead orientations for new hires that included teaching about restraints, the newer IV pump, the crash cart, PCA pump, and PPE policies.

“I also did a lot of observation in the ICU and worked closely with the doctors to learn how to read CT scans, X-Rays, and ultrasounds for the heart and lungs,” she says. “The doctors would challenge me with questions and take the time to teach me all about the different body systems, medications, and procedures they would do. I witnessed four code blues and watched the teamwork that happened within the interdisciplinary teams and the steps to get the patient stable. I also was able to watch a thoracentesis, intubations, extubations, sheath removal after cardiac catheterization, and inserting a dialysis catheter. In addition to being in the ICU for rounds each day for the patients, I would sit in on safety meetings, and learn different policies for the hospital to help the CNS I was working with educate the nurses if they had any questions or concerns about medications or a procedure.”

Dominican also established a new donor-sponsored partnership this summer with MarinHealth. The collaborative program included nine successful nursing student applicants who had completed or were entering their senior year of study. Students were enrolled in either a “Quick Start” clinical management course (two students) or a student internship (seven students) this past summer. All of the students participating in the collaboration completed up to 100 clinical hours on a selected MarinHealth nursing unit from May through July. Plans are in place to offer the student clinical internship to upcoming senior nursing students in the summer of 2023. 

Ally participated in the program and says she learned to be a circulation nurse on the surgical team, serving as an advocate for unconscious patients during surgery. Her duties included efficient and fast room turnovers, time management, prioritization, having the room ready for the surgical team, being familiar with the case, managing the room and making sure sterility is not broken, attending to the needs of the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and surgical techs for the surgery to go smoothly, prepping medications, skin prepping, being organized, proper instrument counts, collecting and handling of specimens, team work, problem solving, and communication with patient’s family, pre-op, and PACU.

This hands-on opportunity validated Ally’s decision to transfer to Dominican via Bauman College.

“I wanted to pursue a career where I felt passionate about dedicating my life to helping others in health care, be in a hospital setting, and gain knowledge about medicine and health,” she says. “I also considered Dominican as my top choice because of the community feeling in a smaller university, the friendly and personable staff, and being located in Marin County.”

During their time at Dominican Ally and her nursing classmates have been in tune with the stress on the nursing profession caused by the pandemic that has resulted in early retirements and burnouts among nurses.

Fink’s nursing candidates understand the impact this has on their roles and the urgency that they are trained to transition from college to their nursing careers. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Dominican is an intensive six semester educational program, including courses such as health assessment, fundamentals of nursing, pathophysiology, pharmacology, nursing research, and nursing leadership. Incoming first-year students will begin the program with two or three semesters of pre-nursing coursework.
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“I have been reflecting and being mindful about my future in this profession. This pandemic has motivated me even more to become a nurse and help others and be a pro-active person during a world crisis to help others and be a part of the healthcare world,” Ally says. “I aspire to be the next new nurse that the health care team can rely on, be the best version of myself as a nurse with my team and provide more care for patients and make a difference in someone’s life during critical times in their lives. I know all of us new nurses will need to learn a lot about how to best care for ourselves also during hard times in order to provide quality care to others, but to also look after our own health to sustain this career path.”

Gillian concurs.

“I see my role as almost becoming a new nurse as being a bright light and I want to be able to provide a spark and joy for learning new things and for caring for my patients,” she says. “Nurses have been working so hard especially during the pandemic and burnout as well as forgetting why you love nursing or got into the field is easily diminishing with being understaffed and overworked so I want to be able to help bring positivity and some new energy into this profession.

Fink, who says she feels like a job career counselor, believes Dominican’s faculty in the nursing department has prepared its students.

“Ultimately, it’s the transition to independence. We give a lot of support to the students. All of us are very available. I have the upcoming December 2022 grads texting and emailing a lot about their preceptor placements,” Fink says. “All of us are taking them under our wings if that’s what they want. If they want our help, we’re here for them. The ones who wanted our guidance are getting our guidance.”

Photo above of (left to right) nursing professor Dr. Margaret Fink and nursing students Gillian Day, Ally Vergara, and Emma Leamon.

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