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OCtech: Nurse training ground zero

OCtech: Nurse training ground zero

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“OCtech changes lives, not only for our graduates, but also their families,” Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s President Dr. Walt Tobin said.

With a rigorous curriculum and shining track record, it’s no wonder employers actively seek the school’s nursing graduates.

OCtech trains students with programs that focus on best-evidence practice and incorporates activities such as simulation labs, recording lectures to supplement face-to-face classes, and clinical case scenarios which allow students to apply information learned in theory to a situation or skill.

Additionally, the job-placement rate and NCLEX pass rates are between 95 and 100%.

“We believe our nursing programs are well-positioned for the future,” Tobin said. “College and program leaders have realized that in addition to our traditional program and student schedules, a growing need exists for alternative education options for adults who want to pursue a high-wage, high-demand career as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.”

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OCtech’s Practical Nursing (PN) and Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) fundamentals classes teach students basic nursing skills, including physical assessment, Foley catheter insertions, nasogastric tube insertion, tracheostomy care, transferring patients, wound care and other skills needed to provide safe patient care.

With the addition of its ADN FLEX option in 2015, the ADN program has seen an increase in the number of minority student graduates, from 19% in 2015 to 46% in 2019.

Claflin nursing program grows and adapts

This option made a difference for two recent graduates.

Keneysha Cornish, assistant director of nursing and staffing development coordinator at Midlands Health and Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, decided to join the ADN FLEX program in 2018.

A week before the summer semester started, she fell into non-stop epileptic seizures while at work. She had to spend the entire week hospitalized, four days of which she needed life support.

Cornish said because of the flexibility of the program, and the ability to take tests online, her medical emergency did not stop her academic progress.

She added saying that while working and going to school, she was still able to fulfill her commitments as a wife and mother of then-3-year-old twins.

Quentin Thomas works on an as-needed basis in the emergency departments at the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg and Prisma Health Baptist in Columbia.

A lack of flexibility in his first attempt at earning an ADN forced him to quit school until 2017, when he was able to secure a spot in the 2017 ADN FLEX class and keep his job.

Thomas said the program made it possible not only to graduate but to do so without much debt.

OCtech’s ADN program was named a Bellwether Award Finalist this spring for its flexible nursing options.

The technical school continues to grow each year.

“In 2019, our PN and ADN programs received full accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing for another eight years,” Tobin said. “This accreditation speaks volumes about the quality of the education that we provide our students.”

Additionally, the school opened its new state-of-the-art nursing building this spring.

The 30,000-square-foot technology-enriched facility features a 200-seat lecture hall that can be divided into up to three individual classrooms, as well as a computer lab, study rooms, skills practice lab and simulation labs.

“Since its inception in the early 1980s, OCtech’s Associate Degree Nursing program has made a significant impact on our students and the community,” Tobin said. “It is the only accredited ADN program between Columbia and Charleston, and from Williamsburg County to Aiken County.”

Tobin hopes to fulfill the obligation to “foster economic development for our region” in their mission statement.

Orangeburg and Calhoun counties have the federal designation of being medically underserved in dental care, primary care and mental health care.

“According to RegisteredNursing.org, by 2030, South Carolina is projected to have the fourth-worst nursing shortage in the nation, based on how many registered nurses the state will need compared to the number it will have,” Tobin said.

South Carolina is also expected to experience the most growth in the field, adding 26,600 new jobs to the existing workforce of 36,900 RNs.

The state agency that tracks nurses in S.C. estimates that there will be 6,400 too few RNs statewide by 2028.

Tobin pushes for OCtech to be able to enter new and capable nurses into the workforce as well help fulfill another part of the school’s mission, to “promote success and self-reliance for students.”

Some 25% of Orangeburg County’s population live in poverty, and 21% of Calhoun County’s population live in poverty.

“Nursing programs – as well as our other health science programs – help fulfill part of the college’s mission to ‘promote success and self-reliance for students,’” Tobin said. “We often take individuals who are first-generation college students and/or low-income and provide them with an opportunity to enter the middle class.”

With the school’s Practical Nursing program, Tobin said, that can happen within one academic year.

“We’re helping to break the cycle of generational poverty,” he said. “We think of ourselves as the first stop on the road to the American Dream, because graduates can go directly into the workforce or enter an advanced degree program and continue their education.”

As the country fights the effects of COVID-19, nurses become an even more integral part in helping the community.

“COVID-19 has elevated the profession in the public eye due to the heroics of today’s nurses on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Tobin said. “A long-term effect will be the continued elevation of nurses as noble, selfless and dedicated to a special calling.”

This may have the positive effect of inspiring more people in the community to embrace this dedicated profession, Tobin said.

“Nurses have truly become our everyday heroes,” he said. “Individuals who enter this career have a passion to help others, an empathetic heart, an ability to provide compassion and comfort to people who are hurting, and an ability to solve a complex set of problems and issues.”

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“COVID-19 may discourage some, but it will encourage many more to pursue this field of study,” he said.

Tobin said looking to the future, he is confident in OCtech’s ability to “meet the needs of a state and nation with a nursing shortage, provide a quality graduate with recognized skills, and accommodate the needs of our local communities as adults seek to achieve their dreams and provide economic stability for their families.”

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