(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- When 39-year-old James Wells was recently laid off after 14 years of working in a medical clinic for the Department of Mental Health, he decided to try his hand at nursing.
"My mom became an LPN (licensed practical nurse) when I was 6 and my wife is an LPN so I've been around it all my life," explained Wells, who is also a combat medic for the National Guard.
Nontraditional, thirty-something and married-with-children students are becoming the norm among the student population at the Sikeston Public Schools Practical Nurse Program.
"Traditionally, nursing students come right out of high school and continue their education," noted Program Director Linda A. Boyd. "But each year we're seeing more nontraditional students -- about a 10-20 percent increase each year. It's at an all-time high right now."
Many of the nontraditional students were in the work force before, but with the economy like it is, they're looking for a different source of education and a field where they know they can get a job, Boyd explained.
"I've worked in the administrative field for years and it's been my lifetime dream to be a nurse," said nursing student Terrye Mitchell, who is in her 40s with two grown children. "Since my children are grown up, I just thought it's time for me."
The number of male students is also on the rise, Boyd said. Usually there's one or two male students each class. This year, there are four, she said.
Take for instance Tien Nguyen, 21. He tried college for two-and-a-half years, majoring in sports medicine, but decided it wasn't for him. He took a semester off and decided he wanted to be a nurse.
Earlier this year nearly 150 people applied for admission into Sikeston's practical nurse program. An admission committee made up of a healthcare committee and faculty choose the students for the upcoming class, which basically consists of the students with the top 51 scores on the admissions exam. Only three of the 51 are traditional students in this year's nursing class, which began July 14, Boyd said.
Tiffany Johnson, 18, is one of the three students who are right out of high school, but she, too, is a nontraditional student in the sense that she has two children.
Not that there's anything wrong with traditional students, Boyd said. There are pluses and minuses for both traditional and nontraditional students, she said, adding that she enjoys teaching both groups.
Traditional students are accustomed to studying because they are coming right out of school, Boyd said. They generally don't have extensive family or obligations to focus on.
"Our nontraditional students are more goal-directed. For many, it's their lifelong dream," Boyd said.
But that's where the differences end. At first there is a little separation between the two groups, but after the first few days, the traditional and nontraditional students become one, Boyd said.
"It's amazing how many best friends are made from the classes. And I'm talking about an 18-year-old and a 50-year-old becoming friends -- not like a mother-daughter or mother-son and vice versa relationship, but a friendship," Boyd pointed out.
After two weeks of classes, the students are starting to get to know each other a little better, Johnson said.
Students of Sikeston's practical nurse program attend class from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Each day consists of four two-hour classes.
Teaching such a diverse group of students does call for a different teaching strategy, Boyd admitted. Her teaching strategy is more of a participator-type education, where students learn how to demonstrate and illustrate -- which is what nursing is about, she said.
Boyd also teaches the diverse group through storytelling, she said. "I teach them by telling a nursing experience to illustrate and reinforce the new knowledge," she explained. "And it catches their attention."
Mitchell admitted it was a little difficult to get back into the study mode and to get organized again after years of being out of school, while Nguyen said he welcomed the older students' wisdom.
There are a lot of different perspectives during class discussions because of the wide range of ages, Wells laughed.
"But everybody is unique, and it helps broaden our horizons," Mitchell said. "We all pretty well support each other and are trying to help each other out. I really don't see any competition between us. We're like a team of workers."