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February 2008 Issue

UC nursing student Lauren Grant (right) learns how to hook up a monitoring system with the help of University Hospital’s Robbie Mangus.
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Nursing Co-Op Aligns UC Students With Children's, University Hospital Experts

Published February 2008

Gun shot wounds. Severe burns. Missing or torn limbs. Patients with physical injuries like these come into the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) at University Hospital every day. 

The physicians and nurses working in the SICU are continually making life and death decisions. And students from the College of Nursing are right there by their side observing and assisting with patient care.

Maggie Cunningham is one of them. She’s been working in the SICU since last June and has performed CPR, changed surgical dressings and administered medicine to patients, among other nursing duties—something that most students do not have the opportunity to do until they graduate.

Cunningham is one of 46 College of Nursing students in the college’s co-operative (co-op) education program.

Students in the co-op program develop their nursing and critical thinking skills by working directly with patients under the guidance of a preceptor, an experienced nurse who supervises and mentors students.  

“I believe our program is the only one of its kind in the country,” says Shirley Alsup, director of co-op for the College of Nursing.

“There are other nursing co-ops, of course, but what makes ours unique is that students actually do everything a nurse does—assess patients, give them medications and IVs, change dressings, code blues and patient education. 

“Most programs only allow students to perform tasks generally handled by patient care assistants like taking vital signs, bathing and feeding patients.”

The co-op program began nearly six years ago as a collaboration with University Hospital and last year grew to include Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Mercy Mt. Airy Hospital.

The highly competitive year-long program begins and ends each June. Students apply for admission and acceptance is based on grade point average, work ethic and professionalism.

“We ask students which areas of the hospital they would like to work in and we try to place them there,” says Alsup.

“This allows them to explore their interest in various nursing specialties and discover their passion. I’ve had many students come into the program set on working in a particular area only to find they actually enjoy another area more once they’ve been exposed to it.”

Students can remain in one area or they can become a part of the “float pool,” which allows them to work in different units.

That option was appealing to senior Lauren Grant.

“I’ve worked in units throughout the hospital so I get to work with many different people with a wide range of skills,” says Grant.

“The co-op program is a great opportunity to not only develop nursing skills but you learn more about yourself and increase your self-confidence,” she says.

Co-op student Eric Prichard says he’s developed critical thinking skills and the experience has pushed him to become better at assessing and treating patients to provide good care.

His co-op at University Hospital has led to a permanent job in the medical intensive care unit upon his graduation in June.

A critical component to the success of the students and the program is the preceptors.

Students work the same shifts as their preceptor for 32 to 40 hours a week during the summer and the winter break and 16 hours a week while school is in session.

Alsup says preceptors are very giving of their time and knowledge.

Cunningham credits her preceptor, University Hospital nurse Rosanne Hountz, with guiding her learning process.

Hountz does it because she loves teaching and wants to help give nursing students real-world experience.

“I wish I had been able to go through a program like this when I was a student because the school environment and the real world
of nursing are very different,” Hountz says.

“The co-op program allows students to get experience and gain confidence in their ability to go out and do what they’ve been studying in school.”

Alsup says co-op is a “win-all” for the students, hospital and the college.

“It’s a win for students because they earn money as hospital employees and they get to find their passion,” she says. “It’s a win for the hospital because staff gets to see how the students perform and they often retain them after their graduation.

“It’s a win for the college because we’re producing some incredibly skilled students that are providing exceptional patient care.”

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