Navarro College nursing students were provided a new environment to gain innovative experiences on Monday.

Nursing students are required to complete over 800 clinical learning hours before they graduate and begin a career. Those clinical rotations include various specialties to allow young nurses to identify their niche in the medical field.

As freestanding emergency rooms pop up around the nation and Texas, Navarro College professionals in the associate's degree nursing program found it vital for their students to experience this atmosphere as well.

The Texas Health and Human Services define a freestanding ER as, “A facility that is structurally separate and distinct from a hospital and which receives an individual and provides emergency care."

One of those is Altus Emergency Center in Waxahachie, which is licensed by the state and is held to the same standards as of patient care as hospital ERs.

The Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers reported 217 stand-alone ERs in Texas. This figure does not include freestanding ERs that are a department of a hospital; but, it is estimated there are about 150.

The number of freestanding ERs has grown by 49.7 percent since 2015, TAFEC reported.

Navarro professionals such as Julie Artega, the director of associate degree nursing program; Alaine Long, an associate professor of associate degree nursing; and Navarro College Dean of Health Professions Guy Featherston thought the experience at Altus Emergency Center in Waxahachie would fill this void.

"The ADN Program is always interested in finding rotations that will provide good clinical learning experiences for our students," Artega explained. "Altus definitely fits this criteria and will assist our students in the achievement of learning outcomes."

Obi Ononobi, director of operations at Altus, said he would happily agree to any partnership that would benefit the community and the future of the health care system.

“Health care is moving into facilities like this now," Ononobi explained. "Yeah, you have your big hospitals, but those are basically evolving into these stand-alone, satellite locations. To be able to work at a facility like this, you have got to know what you’re doing.”

Navarro students will conduct triage, which is a procedure used by doctors and nurses to prioritize emergency care and identify patients’ needs and the nature of the injury or illness. Students also gain experience in the on-site pharmacy and lab area.

Most importantly, the students get to see the patient through the entire stay and understand the “whys” of the process.

“The good thing about being here is that they will truly get that one-on-one with the doctor when it comes to learning and when it comes to bed-side [care], they will have more time with the patient,” Ononobi emphasized.

The clinical rotations bring in two students a week, one at a time for a seven-hour shift. Other clinical rotations can be anywhere from nine to twelve hours. The students will come in from 10 a.m. — 5 p.m., which is when the most foot traffic comes through. About 15 patients are seen daily. The program will continue until April 23.

A similar program was put into place that involved Waxahachie ISD students where they shadowed and observed doctors. “With this program, it’s a little more hands-on,” Obi said.

Daniel McSpadden was the first student to experience a clinical rotation at Altus. McSpadden is a Licensed Vocational Nurse and has worked in the field since 2011. From the variety of experiences, he is certain emergency medicine is his specialty.

“I had worked at Scott and White before it was Baylor Scott and White; I’ve worked at the ER at Providence in Waco, I’ve done clinic, nursing homes,” McSpadden elaborated. “So, I’ve been around a bit.”

He did disclose that Monday was his first experience to work in a freestanding hospital. So far, he noticed the opportunity allowed patient-centered care and additional time to work with staff and patients.

“It’s not as busy [here and] you don’t have 20 nurses going in and out of rooms," McSpadden described. "I think you have a little better continuity of care here and it lets the students be a little bit more involved."

The time at Altus allows the students to be with the patient from when they enter the door and until they leave. McSpadden detailed that at large hospital facilities student operations are task-oriented. McSpadden said he would be tasked to draw blood on patients all day to perfect the job, whereas, at Altus, the students see the patient all the way through their care.

He also noted that due to the workflow at larger hospitals, nurses being shadowed are busy communicating with doctors and other specialists while taking vitals that the student does not have additional time to ask questions.

“I think it’s a big deal to get a rounded experience, so you have an idea of what you want to do,” McSpadden said. “I can also say everyone here has been very friendly. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to go through an actual triage and the whole spectrum of patient care, like following it literally from the door, all the way through."

Currently, additional clinical experiences take place in hospitals, long-term care facilities, home health agencies, public schools, health departments, clinics, surgery centers and hospice care. Beginning this summer, ADN students will be assigned to camps for children with special needs, in order to provide more pediatric clinical experiences.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450