As Practical Nursing (PN) program instructor, Joan Weddington, prepares to graduate her fourth cohort of PN students at College of Western Idaho (CWI) this December, she reflects on what keeps her coming back each year.
“It’s the students,” Weddington said. “They have so much excitement for nursing, and I have seen them grow in this program. It’s transformational.”
Weddington helped build the College’s PN program in 2019 and has been able to see dozens of students graduate, pass their National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), and become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN).
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the PN field is expected to grow by 6% of the next 10 years. The need for more LPNs around the Treasure Valley is another reason Weddington and other faculty in the Nursing department, like Department Chair, Allison Baker, return to CWI each academic year.
“We are in desperate need of health care workers in the community, especially LPNs who are finding themselves taking on more responsibilities around health care facilities,” Baker said.
Over the past few years many industries around the world have changed, specifically health care. While environments around how nurses, doctors, and other health care workers have begun to operate differently, Weddington said first responders’ overall mission to help others has not.
“This career is a dream to so many people,” Weddington said. “Students tell me over and over again this is always what they’ve wanted to do.”
Both faculty members noted the students they work with now come into the program a lot more aware and informed of both the rewarding and challenging moments this career can bring. But even with the hard moments present, Baker said students know it’s all worth it because they’re helping others and following their dreams. Which is something she believes is needed at the moment.
“While health care may not be where we want it to be right now, these students who want to help others can be the change,” Baker said. “If all the good nurses, all the good people go away, then it’s not going to change. These students who have the heart and love for nursing will bring health care to where it needs to be.”
For CWI’s PN program student, Alicia D., helping people and going into health care has always been the goal.
“I love being able to be there for people on their bad days and make them happier and feel better,” Alicia said. “I didn’t come into this for the pay, I came to help.”
The decision for the 35-year-old to join the health care profession stems all the way back from her father, who was a combat medic specialist in the army.
“I loved hearing stories of what he was able to do, and as I got older, I was determined to become a doctor,” said Alicia.
While the goal to join the health care industry never shifted, Alicia’s desire to become a doctor did. As she got older, Alicia knew she wanted to have more patient interactions, something she realized doctors were not able to have as much of because of their busy schedules.
She then knew she wanted to become a nurse.
“I tried the college scene when I was in my 20s, but it didn’t work out,” Alicia said. “After I got pregnant, I went back to school to get my medical assistant (MA) certification because it was a quicker process, but I always had the intention of going back.”
In 2010, Alicia began working as an MA in different fields and loved it. However, she still had in the back of her mind an eventual return to school to become an LPN, but because she had three kids she had to wait until the right moment.
“My husband and I looked at timing with my kids’ school schedules, my work schedule, and how we could financially afford me going back to school,” Alicia said. “We did not want student loans because those are just a headache.”
Then in the summer of 2020, Alicia discovered CWI, and it seemed to be exactly what she was looking for.
“CWI is financially affordable, and it had hours that worked for my family and me,” Alicia said. “All of my prerequisite courses were online at the time, so I was able to still work full-time and take all of the classes I needed.”
After working hard for more than a year to knock her prerequisite courses out of the way, Alicia was able to start CWI’s PN program in January 2022.
“I am very happy about the education I have received and everything I have gained along the way,” Alicia said. “Every teacher I have had has been more than willing to listen and assist. They don’t view you as just another student they will say bye to in a semester or a year, the teachers here genuinely care.”
Alicia also believes the classes and labs she and her classmates get from CWI’s PN program prepares them for the real world. In fact, she knows every lesson they receive is what goes on in life past the classroom because she witnesses it firsthand every day as she works as an MA at St. Luke’s Health System in Nampa.
“Faculty give great insight into how tasks and jobs need to get done,” Alicia said. “I think it’s a great for building a foundation and how to do the role in the real world.”
As Alicia gets ready to complete CWI’s PN program at the end of December 2022, she begins to look forward for what is next in her life. She hopes to remain with St Luke’s to work as an LPN and continue helping others once she passes the NCLEX-PN exam. She also encourages others who are thinking of applying to the program to go for it.
“This program is just one year,” Alicia said. “It’s fast, but it is so thorough, and it prepares you for real world situations.”
While a bright future for Alicia is in the horizon, she takes another look at what she’s been able to accomplish at CWI and says she how proud of herself to have gotten to this moment in life.
“I’ve been working hard, and I am so glad I went back. I mean, there have been a couple of moments I’ve said to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, why did I do this?’ But I love where I am at, and I love having pride in myself that I did this,” Alicia said.
Applications for CWI’s PN program are open now through Oct. 28, 2022.