Picture of female nursing program director Joannie Miller

Hospitals help student nurses graduate early

Elise Hamner News, Student Success

On the Front Line

Southwestern doubled enrollment in its nursing program this year to help health care providers meet a growing demand for workers. It was a race to meet hospital and clinic needs and be ready to expand the program into the new soon-to-open Health & Science Technology Building.

Then came COVID-19. It brewed into a perfect storm.

With three months to graduation, Southwestern’s nursing students headed toward their final clinical training in hospitals. All the while statewide, fearful hospital managers started canceling training for student nurses.

“We knew if we could get our second year students out early, they could get all their practicum out of the way,” said Nursing Director Joannie Miller.

Her students needed their final 225 hours of training side-by-side with registered nurses serving as faculty. So, Miller jumped on the phone in early March, dialing partners at Bay Area Hospital. She called Hospice and the hospitals in Reedsport, Coquille, Bandon and Gold Beach.

“They all stepped up,” she said.

Every single one.

“The full-time nursing faculty worked through their spring break to make this happen for our students. Southwestern, the community and our students are truly blessed to have this caliber of people in the Nursing Department,” Miller said.

In all, 31 students completed clinicals this term. All graduated early, thanks to collaboration with final skill testing, revised safety protocols, and buy-in from the Oregon State Board of Nursing. Four already have job offers.

And, what about Miller and her faculty team? They are reviewing 140 applications for students hoping to get into next year’s nursing class.

“We are on the front lines. This is what we do as nurses,”
Miller said.”

What our graduates have to say …

Keith Selanoff

Nursing Alumnus Keith Selanoff holds a celebration sign
2020 SWOCC Nursing Alumnus Keith Selanoff

What has it been like to train in this current environment?
It’s definitely different! I’ve been fortunate to do my nursing practicum in hospice. Social distancing has had an impact on patient contact. I so look forward to the time when things go back to face-to-face interaction.

Why did you choose nursing?
I’ve always enjoyed taking care of the sick. Providing my patients with compassionate and competent care, or even a distraction from their current situation, is what it’s all about for me. I started as a CNA when I was 17. Finishing nursing school is a lifelong dream for me.

What do you want to do in nursing longer term?
My goal is to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. I’m taking upper division classes at Eastern Oregon University, and will start classes for the bachelor’s of science in nursing at OHSU in the fall.

How would you encourage future students?
Nursing school is tough, but you can do it. Don’t give up. You will get through and the faculty in the nursing program will support you 100%. It is a lot of work, but it goes by in a flash and before you know it you’re done. Find a study group that works well for you. That is a big help.

Ally Cuneo

nursing alumna Ally Cuneo holds a stethoscope
2020 SWOCC Nursing alumna Ally Cuneo

What’s it been like to train in this current environment?
There have definitely been ups and downs. I’ve been working side-by-side with a nurse at Coquille Valley Hospital in the ER. I absolutely love the craziness of the ER. We are creating a new system of response each day, and
it’s really improving my patient care skills fast.

Why did you choose nursing?
When I had my son, I was so impressed with the nurses that helped me. My husband is a paramedic, and we really love the lifestyle and the schedule. I decided I wanted a job that would be useful everywhere because we do humanitarian work, so nursing is a perfect fit.

What do you want to do in nursing longer term?
Working in the ER suits my personality. I like to be on the go and it’s exciting. I’d enjoy having a job in the ER. Long term, I’d like to work in labor and delivery.

How would you encourage future students?
I want to tell students that it’s worth all the hard work. I made a pact with other students that we would carry each other across the finish line, and we have! We’re a team, a family. The faculty pushed me and encouraged me. I have nothing but good things to say about them.