Craven CC offer nursing classes in Havelock

Weeks before her nurse’s aide course launched in Havelock, Katie Jenkins heard from a young woman.

A military wife from Virginia, the woman was still finding the light switches in her new Cherry Point home. One thing she had found was Craven Community College’s Havelock campus, and now she was set on becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant.

“She hadn’t even unpacked; the moving truck was on its way,” said Jenkins, the college’s director of health programs. “She might find some of her clothing before the time the class is out.”

In February, the college expanded its Nurse Aide I program to the Havelock campus, adding 15 seats to one of the school’s most popular programs. With nurses dwindling in rural North Carolina, health leaders hope programs like Havelock’s will help more people get a foot in the profession’s door.

“This is the number one program that we get requests for,” Jenkins said. “It’s taken about a good year and a half to say that we could give this room.”

The nurse aid room at the Havelock campus is part classroom, part hospital ward.

Two medical dummies named Bonnie and Clyde stare pensively at the ceiling from a pair of hospital beds. There are wheelchairs, privacy curtains and a soon-to-be-installed shower area. Three nights a week students spend 3 1/2 hours moving between desks and the mock medical area, learning how to bathe and turn patients, take blood pressure and keep patient and nurse safe.

Over 13 weeks, the course readies students for the state CNA exam in May. With a CNA certificate in hand, graduates can work in home care, nursing homes, phlebotomy and other fields.

But Jenkins said most students in her classes aspire to nursing school and someday working in a hospital.

Craven’s main campus in New Berm also offers an associate nursing degree and Practical Nurse programs. Students yearning for a four-year bachelor of nursing have local options like East Carolina University. Jenkins said since the recession of 2008-09, collegiate nursing programs have gotten more competitive, and many expect students to already have Nurse Aide I training when they come to campus.

“They’ve got to come to a community college to get that training,” Jenkins said. “They’re now all going to be on an even playing field.”

Programs like the one at Craven Community College could help the region get ahead of a worsening nurse shortage. North Carolina will be in dire need of nurses within a decade, according to a 2014 study by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis.

The study predicted that by 2025, North Carolina would have 12,900 fewer Registered Nurses than needed – one of the largest deficits in the nation after Arizona and Colorado. The state’s supply of Licensed Practical Nurses could also be 7,760 short.

Jim Davis, assistant vice president of nursing services at New Bern’s CarolinaEast Medical Center, said rural parts of the state are already feeling the pinch.

“All the research out there says that the nursing shortage is going to get worse,” Davis said. “If you look at the literature and the resources out there, most of the places that don’t have a shortage are the major city areas and the metropolitan areas where they have three or four hospitals.”

Last May, CarolinaEast hired 50 new nurses – a third of those were Craven Community College graduates. Davis said nurses who have lived and been educated in eastern North Carolina are more likely to stay in those jobs long-term.

“We’re excited to see that they’re expanding the classes,” Davis said. “We’ve worked really closely with the college for years and the nursing school, and they’ve always been very helpful to us.”

From their desks at the Havelock campus, students can hear the whoosh of aircraft coming and going from Cherry Point, just across Fontana Boulevard. More than half of the students are military wives, many just married and freshly arrived in North Carolina.

School leaders hope to follow Nurse Aide I with more medical programs at the Havelock campus, though that would of course take money and space.

But Jenkins said having this program closer to base will let more people jump into nursing.

“It’s a 15-minute hike (to New Bern), but when you’ve got to run children and get on and off the base, it’s just a little bit of an inconvenience,” she said. “It’s going beyond our classrooms into our workforce. It’s keeping our grandparents and our parents safe when they go into the hospitals.”