Terry Ratner RN, BS, MFA - nurse, writer, educator - click to return home
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Nurses' Corner
Personal Memoir


Teens Access Nursing Profession Via Shadowing Program

Virginia "Ginny" Orcutt, RN, BSN, CEN, ED clinical coordinator at Abrazo's Arrowhead Hospital in Glendale, Ariz., has confidence in a "grow your own" theory that allows high school students who are interested in healthcare careers to shadow nurses in a variety of high-traffic settings.

"Motivating teens to become nurses isn't an easy job," says Orcutt. "It's not a profession easily explained in a lecture, television show, or book. Students need hands-on observation and immersion into the culture of nursing."

Abrazo Health Care, along with the city of Phoenix and Gateway Community College, gave 24 Arizona students ages 16 to 18 an opportunity to experience healthcare careers through a four-week summer program funded by the city of Phoenix. The program just completed its second year of partnership with Gateway Community College, at which students can enroll in a healthcare occupations class with prepaid tuition and receive college credit upon completion of the course. The didactics portion of the course features weekly discussions on work ethics, HMOs, teamwork, and communication. Students spend an additional eight hours weekly in clinical settings with nurses.

Sixteen-year-old Caitlan Lee and 18-year-old Nathan Sechrist were eager to get started on their first day of service at Arrowhead Hospital. "The students came without any preconceived idea of what they might encounter during the next four weeks," says Orcutt. "They were like sponges, soaking up everything."

Lee is no stranger to hospitals, as her brother's Asperger's syndrome requires frequent hospitalizations. "I've been around hospitals, doctors, and nurses for years," she says. "From what I've observed, nurses spend quality one-on-one time with their patients, and that's what I admire."

Lee has had the opportunity to watch her mother teach preschool-age special-needs children. "It's a profession that gives her exposure to both nursing and teaching," Lee says. "When one of the special-needs children had a seizure in class and he sat there for 30 seconds and stared into space, I remember my mother's calm - she knew just what to do, she had him refocus, and then everything was back to normal. That's what sparked my interest in nursing."

Lee and Sechrist were more than bystanders in the Arrowhead ED. "They cleaned and stocked rooms, assisted patients in wheelchairs, and interacted with staff in the respiratory and diagnostic imaging departments," says Orcutt. "No task was below them. They emptied garbage cans and carried specimens to the lab. They were part of the team, always willing to pitch in when help was needed."

In the trauma room, Lee watched nurses assist a man who was gasping for air. "The nurses kept their cool, answered my questions, and explained everything to me at the appropriate time," she says.

Sechrist was drawn to nursing's high-tech side and the science behind the techniques. "It was exciting to connect what we learned in class with what we saw at Arrowhead," he says. "I witnessed a nurse shock a man's heart after it went into a funky rhythm. Afterward, she explained the procedure in depth, which allowed me to put the pieces of the puzzle together."

The realities of life and death were evident by the third clinical day. "A woman who had miscarried at home was admitted," Sechrist says. "A half hour later, her sister brought in her fully formed fetus, which was weighed and photographed. It looked like a sleeping baby - something I'll never forget."

The summer shadowing program helped Sechrist narrow his goals for the future, and he now has a better understanding of nursing's role in hospitals. "The docs come in and talk with patients for a few minutes, but it's the nurses who are always there assisting patients, changing IVs, giving meds, and keeping patients calm," he says.

Sechrist, who graduated from high school in May, knows one thing for certain. "I want to make a difference in people's lives," he says. "Even though I may have to see things that make me uncomfortable, if I can assist others, that's what I want to do."