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Wallace’s nursing students well-trained, maintain top scores

Students sat at pressed wood tables outside a lab at Wallace Community College-Selma. Loose-leaf paper was scattered across the tables, creased textbooks lay open and students nervously flipped the glossy pages, squeezing the most out of every last second before it was their turn to open the double doors and step into the lab.

For these students, the three semesters of classes, labs and clinical work is more pressure-filled than a Mason jar of canned vegetables. But when they graduate, they will be prepared for any thing a job can sling at them.

“They drill you,” Yolanda Phillips said. “You gonna get it before you leave here.”

WCCS features one of the top nursing programs in the state. The program is intense and challenging.

Its students exceed the national average pass rate for the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses and practical nurses each year. In 2007, the nationwide pass rate was 85.7 percent. WCCS’s pass rate was 94 percent.

Students commute from Birmingham, Montgomery and Wilcox County to participate in the National Nursing League accredited registered nurse, and licensed practical nurse and nursing assistant programs.

Director of the LPN and nursing assistant program Veronica Brown, RN, credits the faculty’s hands-on approach with the program’s success. Brown said her staff is not just interested in collecting a paycheck.

“I think that’s just really the key,” Brown said. “I don’t think we just work to work. We work to see an end result.”

This attitude pervades the students, too. While furiously jotting down notes, LPN student Keletta Mason shrugged off the notion that a paycheck drives her toward graduation.

“I don’t care about the pay,” Mason said. “I care about the patients.”

Mason waited her turn Thursday to enter the lab for her medication check-off exam. In the lab, students practice administering medication to life-size mannequins in a replicated hospital setting. An instructor watches each student while they carefully measure the medications and practice proper technique of administering the meds to patients. This lab, along with others, prepares the students for clinical work at area hospitals and nursing homes, which begins in April.

“We make sure they’re prepared and confident before we take them out there,” Brown said as she walked around the lab.

Soon, WCCS will be able to prepare its nursing students even more. The college is constructing a new health sciences building on the east side of campus, which should be completed by late summer. The building will house both the RN, and LPN and nursing assistant programs. The building will also feature state-of-the-art computer labs, equipment and resource rooms full of books and other supplies.

Brown said the new building provides much needed space. The last two years, WCCS has seen an increase in enrollment for its nursing programs.

“With this economic decline that we’re having, healthcare is your one area that people can still find employment,” Brown said.

According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry gained 19,000 jobs in January 2009. The industry gained an average of 30,000 jobs each month in 2008.

Between all the tests and labs, students do not have much time to think about the economy. When LPN student Kai Hunter looked up from her book, a quizzical stare appeared on her face.

“In the healthcare field, you always have a job,” Hunter said. “Somebody’s always going to be sick.”