So where do these nurses come from? There are several nursing programs throughout the state, but the DATC and Weber State University have a dual program that has been training nurses for years.
“I don’t recall exactly when we started working with the DATC, maybe 10-12 years ago,” said Weber State Manager of Practical Nursing Pam Rice. “We have a contractual agreement with them. DATC has its own program for the first year. They try to use the same text books in the second year as our program so that students don’t have to buy new ones. At the end of the first year the students apply to the Weber RN program.”
Students at DATC start in the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program then move into the Registered Nurse (RN) program at Weber. The two facilities work together to train a higher number of nurses by sharing equipment and instructors.
“The bottleneck is the lack of faculty and clinical opportunities,” said Amy Stegen, director of the DATC Licensed Practical Nursing program. “Practice in hospitals is key to a nursing program. Students need to watch and learn on the job. There are a lot of allied health programs out there, and so hospitals are inundated with students who need clinical experience. We turn out a lot of nurses in Utah.”
DATC can’t offer an RN program because it doesn’t offer actual college credits. “The partnership with Weber works well,” said Stegen. “With the shortage of faculty, we can share instructors. Students start here, then move into Weber’s program, paying their tuition and graduating with a degree from Weber.”
Stegen said DATC students who complete all of the requirements for the program can almost “walk right into Weber,” to continue on for their RN. “About 95 percent choose to go on,” she said. “Clinicals are set up through us. It probably amounts to about 300 hours that first year. We take 40 students in the fall and 40 in January. Then it dovetails into Weber.”
Of course, the road to becoming a nurse is not easy. “This is not for the meek,” said DATC student Heather Wakkuri. “It has been difficult. I average anywhere from 65-85 hours a week to meet the standards needed to carry over into the program at Weber State. It’s hard, especially as a single parent. But the instructors are really good and find ways to make you fight a little harder.”
Wakkuri has been a CNA for eight years but always wanted to become a trauma nurse. “I went to night school while trying to care for my child,” she said. “It took me about five application rounds to get in.” But she believes all the hard work will pay off.
“I’ve been told that DATC puts out some of the best nurses, so I made it my goal,” Wakkuri said. “My biggest dream is to be on life flight. After I complete the RN program I want to go on for my bachelor’s.”
Wakkuri said the DATC program has great diversity. “There is a little bit of everybody here,” she said. “The beauty of the application process is that it doesn’t just depend on an interview. They base it on your scores and qualifications. They don’t know what you look like until you show up.”
Another DATC student, Brittany Caldwell, has also found the program suits her needs. “I like the small campus, it’s more personal,” she said. “For me, if I need something, their door is open. I’ve been a CNA for 10 years and I’ve heard nothing but good things about DATC. The places I’ve worked said the best students come from there.”
Rice said with today’s economy the nursing shortage is not as great. However, there is a shortage of faculty. “We have to have one instructor for every 10 students,” she said. “We have started a master’s program to create more faculty. Our nursing instructors are aging, but getting a master’s degree is costly and they (instructors) don’t make as much as in a hospital. You have to do it for the joy of teaching.”
Rice said Weber is trying to build up a cadre of young nursing faculty members who can take over.
“This (nursing program) is a great service to the community,” said Rice, “but it comes at a cost.”