Tara Swanson considers her two years of schooling at Coconino Community College to become a registered nurse one really long job interview.
Throughout her nursing training, she was working at Flagstaff Medical Center, in different departments. She knew this was her time to impress her potential future employer.
Swanson, her husband and two daughters moved to Flagstaff from the Phoenix-area in 2009 for a better quality of life. But Swanson, who has a master’s degree in business, and was working in medical marketing, knew she wanted to return to a more hands on medical job.
She’d been a medic in the Air National Guard and now wanted to become a registered nurse. Swanson weighed the accelerated nursing program at CCC with seeking another bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing at Northern Arizona University.
“NAU didn’t afford me the opportunity to work while in school,” said Swanson, who had already taken a large pay cut when she moved to northern Arizona. She chose the two year CCC nursing program.
Today, Swanson works as a charge nurse in Flagstaff Medical Center’s Step Down unit. This is the transitional unit where sicker patients recover from post open-heart surgeries.
“CCC does a great job making sure you see different facets of nursing and the different avenues you can go,” Swanson said. “It helps you focus on where you want to work.”
The College has built a solid reputation of training registered nurses, said Richard Henn, Staff Development Director at Flagstaff Medical Center. He’s in charge of the professional development classes and training that nurses at FMC undergo. Henn estimates that around 60 percent of the Medical Center’s first year nurses come from CCC.
The CCC nursing program started about a decade ago at the request of the community and Northern Arizona Healthcare, the parent organization for Flagstaff Medical Center, Sedona Medical Center and Verde Valley Medical Center. Prior to CCC’s program, students had to leave the area to attend Northland Pioneer Community College in Winslow or Yavapai Community College in the Verde Valley to obtain a nursing degree. NAU’s School of Nursing has existed for several decades, however local residents said the capacity for enrollment, admission requirements and cost of tuition precluded potential students of nursing who might have otherwise matriculated from NAU.
CCC worked with the Arizona State Board of Nursing and developed a business plan for nursing education. After approval of the plan, the first class of 20 students was admitted in the fall of 2003. The program now admits two cohorts of 20 students each, graduating 40 students per year, and has received full accreditation by the Arizona State Board of Nursing.
Part of the CCC nurses training includes clinical work at FMC. It is a huge advantage to observe the nurses in-training while they do their clinicals at FMC, Henn said.
“One and a half years of their clinicals are on our campus,” he said. “Directors and managers get to know them. We have the opportunity to make the best selections.”
In northern Arizona, those selections are critical, Henn said.
“Flagstaff is different to recruit people to,”he said. “We rely heavily on the local college for our workforce.”
Programs such as CCC’s nursing program are crucial to keep the applicant pool filled with highly-trained nurses who are familiar with the area and know they want to continue living here, especially during a nationwide nursing shortage, which is approaching in the next six to eight years, Henn said. Forty percent of the nurses across the country are 50 years old or older.
With those nurses retiring, “colleges become more and more important to provide that training,” Henn said. “Without CCC, I’d predict we’d be looking at a bigger nursing shortage than we would want to be in.”
Most who enter into the CCC program live in the community, Henn said. “Many are looking for jobs within the community and that adds value to an employer. It means they are less likely to move away after a year.”
For Swanson, she and her husband knew they found a home where they could raise their two daughters.
“We are so blessed to be able to live here where the focus is on our family,” she said.
She said she’s also fortunate to have a job she loves. Being a nurse means being there for her patients, Swanson said.
“If patients don’t have an effect on you, you’re in the wrong profession,” she said. Swanson recalls her mother’s own bout with illness. “Mom said if it wasn’t for the nurses, she wouldn’t have made it through some of the treatments. I couldn’t be there in that position for my mom, but I knew I could do that for someone else’s mom.”