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CVTC nursing students prepare for emergency work

MENOMONIE, WI – About once a week, Michelle Briggs of Menomonie finds time to head to Colfax, where she logs some hours with the Colfax Rescue, the village-owned ambulance service. An EMT since 2012, Briggs likes to help people and has a special interest in helping people in critical situations.

She got a glimpse of what she hopes is her future Sept. 1 when she toured the emergency department at Mayo Clinic Health System Red Cedar in Menomonie with fellow Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) students in the Nursing Associate Degree program. It wasn’t a totally new experience for her, as she also works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in the medical/surgical area at Mayo’s Red Cedar facility.

“I really want to do emergency room nursing,” Briggs said. “Being an EMT, I like doing that kind of work, with the fast pace and the variety.”

Although she’s been studying nursing for a while, Briggs knows emergency nursing is special, requiring both broad knowledge and specialized skills. She’s learning about it in an Emergency Nursing certificate course at CVTC with instructor Linda Londre.

“Certain areas of nursing like emergency department nursing have their own language, and the nurses experience a lot of extreme situations,” Londre said. “It’s also special because you deal with patients from every age group. At any time, I could have a three-day-old or a 101-year-old in my care.”

Students who complete the course are certified for emergency department nursing. Because of their enrollment in the elective course, the students’ 80-hour nursing internship experience will be in an emergency department setting. It’s Londre’s job to prepare the students for that internship and a future career.

The tour of Mayo Clinic Health System Red Cedar Emergency Department was part of that preparation, coming very early in the semester.

“I want to expose them to the real,” Londre said. “I can show them what it means to be a health care provider and an emergency room nurse. When I apply what they’ve seen to the classroom, it sticks.”

At the start of the tour, Londre showed the triage area of the emergency department and explained a fundamental difference between emergency nursing and nursing in other settings. The goal on a regular hospital floor may be to move a patient toward discharge and the goal of nursing home care is to take care of needs in the long term.

“In the ER, we have to move patients,” Londre said.  “We have to expedite care.” Patients often go home after an ER visit, but often are admitted to the hospital or sent to a critical care unit – usually within hours of arrival.

The faster-paced environment appeals to the students in Londre’s class.

“I’m definitely interested in emergency room work and I took the class to get my feet wet,” said Caitlin Hannes, who works as an LPN at the Chippewa Manor in Chippewa Falls. “I want to learn to think on my feet and develop some critical thinking skills.”

Hannes’ situation is similar to that of Bobi Beaudette of Chippewa Falls, who is working as an LPN at the veterans’ home in Chippewa Falls. Both are in an environment where they do nursing work in what is essentially the patients’ home.

“It’s really special and an honor to work with the veterans,” Beaudette said. “But in emergency work I would like seeing anyone from an infant to a 90-year-old, and everything from an ear infection to major trauma.”

Andrea Glad of Menomonie is working as an LPN at Mayo Clinic Health Systems facilities at Red Cedar, Osseo, Elmwood and Glenwood City.

“I’m familiar with a lot of the emergency room work already,” she said. “At Osseo, I work right next to the ER. I get down to the ER at Red Cedar on occasion. I like the way it’s set up there, with different areas for triage.”

Glad is seeking broad experience and has plans to continue her education for a bachelor’s in nursing and eventually a doctorate as a nurse practitioner.

“Emergency work is a different challenge every day,” Glad said. “Each patient is different and you never know what’s going to come through that door.”

Following the tour of Mayo’s Red Cedar facility, Londre led the class to the fire station on Menomonie’s north side, where the staff is trained in firefighting and EMS. Londre said it’s important for the students to see emergency medical work from that perspective, too.

“When you work in an ER, the EMS providers are an integral part of the people you work with,” Londre said. “Nurses have to understand the differences between the levels of care EMS with different certifications can provide and how that affects how they receive their patients in the ER.”

Students in Londre’s class are close to experiencing what they are learning firsthand. Their internships are coming up and all are scheduled to graduate in December. They could be working as emergency room RNs in a few months.

“We really appreciate the cooperation of our partners in the healthcare and emergency services community who open their doors to improve the education of our students. It’s essential that our students interact with professionals at their places of work as part of their education,” Londre said.

Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.