Student nurses take a healthy approach


January 18, 2001|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ASK SOMEONE WHO's been confined to a hospital room, and he'll describe a world reduced to a few square feet, where life is corralled within the boundaries of a privacy curtain and monitored by an assortment of beeping medical equipment.

Interruptions are often welcome diversions, especially when a visitor arrives with good news, good food or, at the very least, a smile.

And nothing rivals the smile of a student nurse.

With a spirit not yet worn thin by the demands of too many patients, the student nurse moves on light feet, her attention focused on the patient to whom she's assigned.

She - and, more and more frequently, he - has the time to listen, the desire to help and the need to know. And if the patient is at North Arundel Hospital or Anne Arundel Medical Center, the student nurse is probably on a clinical study trip, a regular assignment for those in the nursing program at Anne Arundel Community College.

The two-year AACC program, which offers an associate's degree in registered nursing, began in 1966 and graduated its first class in 1968.

Before taking the nursing classes, students must complete a year of prerequisite courses. For many, because of work and family obligations, the courses often take longer than a year to finish, says Linda Epstein, chair of the school's nursing department.

Epstein, who joined the staff at AACC in 1979, became chairwoman of the department five years ago. She says AACC's nursing program is a tough course of study and that though the students are very dedicated, she doesn't understand how many of them are able to do it all.

Second-year nursing student Tom Pezza of Arnold echoes those sentiments. Married and with three young children, Pezza works full time as a county Fire Department firefighter and paramedic at the Brooklyn station on Ritchie Highway. His schedule there is 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

Then there's schoolwork and taking care of his son and two daughters when his wife, Janice, goes to work as a registered nurse at Anne Arundel Medical Center, watching over patients recovering from anesthesia after surgery.

The 37-year old says he wanted to be able to take care of his family when he retires from the Fire Department in eight years. He thought nursing would make a good part-time job that would allow him to enjoy retirement.

Retirement? We'll see. He went to the doctor a few weeks ago because he wasn't feeling well, and the doctor told him it was physically impossible for anyone to do what he was doing.

But busy is his way of life. When he was 20, Pezza says, he was promoted to sergeant in the Marine Corps. He has been a paramedic and rescue squad member in Baltimore County and, for the past 12 years, in Anne Arundel.

"Basically, I've been involved for 15 years taking care of sick people," says Pezza, "but nursing has taught me a lot of compassion for the patients."

Students work at a different hospital each semester. "They try to get you into a city hospital and a community hospital throughout your tour," Pezza says of the nursing course.

He plans to start working as a nurse shortly after he graduates on May 24. "I'll just do both jobs at the same time," he says. "I'm in my last semester, and I'm excited."

"This year we're graduating 102 students," says Epstein, "the largest class we've ever had. There are 105 students in the first year. We increased the size of our nursing class because of the nursing shortage. The mean age of nurses is 48 in almost all hospitals. The number of students graduating is much fewer than nurses renewing licenses."

Some students - such as 22-year old Lytresha Anderson of Millersville - opt for a condensed course of study called the RN Mobility Program, which offers the entire two-year curriculum in one intense year of study beginning in May.

"I've known what I wanted to do since I was 4 years old," says Anderson. She had studied nursing at the Center for Applied Technology North while her in her senior year at Old Mill High School, and had become a licensed practical nurse.

"I didn't understand the concept of nurses' aides when I was little," she says, "but I knew that my mother and grandmother were aides, and they said they were helping people. All I knew was I wanted to wear a white, starchy dress, white hose and shoes, and help people."

Anderson is an LPN in the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins Hospital, assisting in treatment planning for patients with such problems as bipolar depression and eating disorders. "It is very challenging, and at any given moment, overwhelming," she says. "I've had my share of mental health, and I'm ready to move on."

Her ultimate goal is a job in neonatal intensive care, she says.

"Nursing is not something you go into for the quote, unquote, money," says Anderson. "You don't go to work and say, `I'm going to do just what I have to do to get by.' Technically, you're not a doctor, but you're still in charge of someone's life."

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