WESTMINSTER — Lucille Turner, a 49-year-old mother of two grown children, had cometo "that point in life when you want something more."
So, the Finksburg resident enrolled in a program at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center to become a licensed practical nurse.
She is one of eight post-secondary students in the yearlong program, which began a six-week session earlier this summer.
"I had no children at home and I could afford to go, so I decided to do it," said Turner, a nurse's aide. "It's something I've always wanted to do."
Although the school's nursing program has been in existence for 17 years, post-secondary students were admitted for the first time last year.
There are 22 post-secondary and secondary students enrolled in this year's program, up from 14 the previous year, said Judy Babylon, the program's coordinator and an instructor.
"We haven't seen that many students in a long stretch," she said.
Opening practical nursing classes to post-secondary students, who come from all walks of life -- including homemakers to police officers -- has benefitednot only the program but high school students, who attend full-time their senior year.
Older students bring their life experiences to the classroom and often motivate younger students, she said.
"Theyset role models for the other students," Babylon said. "They're really a motivating presence for the younger students."
Turner's experience is similar to that of post-secondary students who graduated from last year's program. Returning to school has been an adjustment, though.
"I've really had to crack down and study," she said. "You gohome and want to watch television, but you can't.
"You want to goout on the weekends, but you can't. You have to study. My husband feels like he lives alone."
Two graduates, Kathleen Winters, a 34-year-old mother of three, and Sherry Allen, a 38-year-old mother of four, also found the program demanding.
Still, they balanced part-time jobs, household duties and schoolwork to graduate in June. Both have found nursing jobs and plan to go on to Catonsville Community College to become registered nurses, which requires more education and leads to broader duties.
"It was a lot of work and a lot of studying," said Winters, a Taneytown resident. "It's a good program, though."
Carrie Bell, a 17-year-old Westminster High senior, has found the interaction with post-secondary students rewarding.
"I think we all work well together," she said. "We're all treated as equals. There's really no difference between the adult students and us. We work, but we have a lot of fun, too."
The workload is heavy and the requirements tough. Summer classes begin at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. Students study sciences, such as anatomy and physiology, and nursing fundamentals, such as taking blood pressure and sponge bathing patients.
For Carroll residents, the program, which includes 1,300 hoursof instruction in theory and clinical experience, is more convenientand less expensive than attending programs at area colleges or hospitals.
For example, Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, which offers a one-year, full-time or a two-year, part-time program, charges students $3,300. Carroll's program cost post-secondary students $1,750.
To pass the summer session, students must maintain a 75 average on nursing fundamentals -- both theory and clinical experience. Students gain the latter by taking care of patients at the Westminster Nursing and Convalescent Center.
In the fall, course work will include more anatomy and physiology, medical and surgical procedures and pharmacology. In the latter, students must receive an 86 grade average before administering medication.
"A lot of these tests produce some real anxiety," said Babylon, who teaches the program along with Stephanie Reid. Both women are registered nurses.
Clinical experiencewill continue in the fall at Carroll County General Hospital, where students work in cardiology and in operating and emergency rooms. They will learn to care for several patients at once.
"The clinical work gets more difficult," Babylon said. "Clinical skills are so important. You need to know how to take care of patients properly. The last thing patients want is someone who doesn't know how to take care ofthem."
Students adhere to strict rules. Absenteeism is not allowed.
"This is a very serious profession," said Babylon.
For students, though, the time and effort will prove worthwhile.
Addie Eckardt, president of the Maryland Nurses Association, said the nursing shortage has improved working conditions, including wages and hours.
It's something guidance counselors should make students more aware of, especially those with an interest in health care, she said.
"Ithink there still needs to be greater marriage between vo-tech programs and education in Maryland," she said. "Vo-tech education is stillseen as less than academic."