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From COVID-19 to Community-Based Clinical Sites: Golden West College’s Nursing Program Programs

September 30, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe, regional community college career education programs continue to deal with the challenge of providing critical hands-on training to students while maintaining state-mandated health, safety, and social distancing guidelines. Nowhere is this more difficult than in nursing, where hospitals have become so overburdened treating COVID-19 patients that they can no longer serve as clinical training sites for prospective registered nurses.

“Replacing clinical hours has been the biggest hurdle for nursing programs across the country,” says Associate Dean and Director of Golden West College’s Nursing Program, Dr. Alice Martanegara. “I’m so proud of our program and our community partners for coming together so we could solve this problem in a way that benefits students and the community.”

As one of the premier nursing programs in Orange County, GWC’s School of Nursing has evolved its program in the span of a few months to take advantage of a series of community-based clinical sites that are not only supporting pandemic response efforts but also getting students the critical “hands-on” hours they need to meet state licensure requirements. 

One of these sites is Orange County’s COVID-19 testing supersite at the Anaheim Convention Center. A partnership between the OC Health Care Agenc and 360 Clinic, the site provides free, drive-thru COVID-19 testing to anyone working and living within Orange County. It also gives GWC nursing students a way to log important clinical hours while supporting the region’s frontline response to COVID-19.

“In just a few months, we were able to work out lesson plans and collaborate with the Board of Nursing to get these alternate, community-based sites approved,” says Martanegara, who is herself a registered nurse and alumna of GWC’s nursing program.

Martanegara credits the nursing program’s strong reputation and network of committed community partnerships with making this transition possible. As a result, several similar community-based clinical sites with regional companies, such as 24/7 Care of the Home, a home health agency, were secured this summer that will allow GWC’s nursing program to continue its mission of training the next generation of nurses uninterrupted.

As a testament to these efforts, GWC’s School of Nursing enrolled a full class of 45 students this fall—and this is a good thing. Why? Because even before the pandemic, Orange County needed nurses. Badly. According to the 2020 Orange County Workforce Indicators Report by the Orange County Business Council (OCBC), there were over 22,000 job postings for nurses in Orange County in 2019 making it the second most in-demand career in the county, second only to software developers.

In 1958, GWC’s School of Nursing accepted its first class of students as part of Orange Coast College. Nine years later, the school relocated to the newly opened Golden West College as a way to draw students to the new campus. Today, GWC’s School of Nursing receives nearly 350 applications every semester and has long been considered one of the best nursing programs in the region—on average, 94-99 percent of its admitted students graduate on time and are licensed within six months of graduating.

“I really think our faculty are the heart of our program,” says Martanegara. “They’re so on it. No stone goes unturned when it comes to supporting students. They work night and day to make sure our students are prepared and it shows.”

With an attrition rate of just 1 to 4 percent, GWC’s program also boasts exceptional exam pass rates—in Fall 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available) 95.24 percent of its students passed the NCLEX, the California state licensure exam for registered nurses.

“Golden West College’s School of Nursing is a great and smart choice to begin your nursing career because of the program’s great reputation with local hospitals and our community,” says Lauren Perkins, a third semester, GWC nursing student and vice president of GWC’s nursing club. “Golden West nursing students are spoken very highly of by our local hospitals. We are told that our students are always prepared, extremely professional, caring to patients these are three qualities that are very important to have as a nurse.”

Another hallmark of GWC’s program is its concept-based approach to learning. In contrast to traditional educational models in which a teacher presents concepts and facts to passive students who then memorize and recite them, concept-based learning encourages students to practice higher-level thinking skills by linking facts and exemplars to concepts through  active processes such as completing case studies, questions, or problem-solving activities.

“The problem with just thinking in terms of theory and practice is that you end up with big gaps in the middle,” explains Martanegara. “Our approach teaches students to address the continuum of life in a more holistic way so they can move seamlessly and successfully from theoretical knowledge into lab practice and then into actual clinical settings.”

Kevin Tham, who graduated in spring 2020 and is currently an emergency room trauma nurse at St. Mary Medical Center, not only liked what he learned at GWC but how he learned it. “The fact that we were so hands on with our skills very quickly made me a better nurse,” says Tham. “As an example, we learned how to place IVs in patients by 2nd semester. Some of my coworkers who were in different nursing programs didn’t complete that skill till 4th semester. It gives us confidence in clinicals and on the job.”

This transition is critical, especially as demand for nurses is projected to grow 16 percent between 2016 and 2026—more than double the average for all other jobs—according to according the US Department of Labor. This demand, coupled with the fact that registered nurses earn an average salary of over $100,000 a year in California, makes nursing an attractive career pathway for prospects looking for financial independence and career stability.

Twenty years ago, Martanegara entered the field of nursing because of a similarly promising job outlook.

“I was at a party when one of the guests started telling a story,” recalls Martanegara who was married with two small children at the time. “She was a nurse and she told me about how she was going through a divorce, but that nursing had allowed her to become financially independent as a woman. I’d never really thought about nursing before as a career but it just inspired me and got me thinking about what it did for this woman and what it could do for me. I was hooked after that.”

After completing her AS in Nursing at GWC and passing the NCLEX, Martanegara worked as a registered nurse for several years, eventually advancing to administrator-level positions. While working as a nursing director, she returned to college and earned her master’s in nursing education from University of Phoenix and then her doctorate in nursing practice from Touro University in Nevada.

During this period, Martanegara also started teaching.

“I always wanted to be an educator,” recalls Martanegara. “When I went to Golden West, I was one of four minority students in the whole entire program even though Golden West was located in a pretty diverse area. As a teacher, I wanted to inspire students and especially women and minority students who could look at me and say to themselves, ‘Okay, maybe I do belong here.’”

Going forward, Martanegara is excited about several new projects that she believes will further secure GWC’s place as a premier provider of nursing education to the region. Those projects include building out GWC’s already robust simulation lab; developing a weekend RN program; making the LVN-to-RN bridge program a permanent offering. In particular, she is excited about a Certified Nursing Assistant program that is in development.

“The beauty of a community college is that you can get going right away and work,” says Martanegara. “But unfortunately, we don’t have room for every student who applies. So, we’re working on pathways for people who want the safety and job security of being part of the healthcare industry, but maybe can’t be a nurse for whatever reason or want to get to work more quickly.”

When asked “what’s next,” Martanegara is all about the future, faculty, and students.

“I just want people to know how good we are,” says Martanegara. “We’ve done so many great things, I just want people to know. I want to elevate the students and faculty and their efforts, tenacity, and dedication. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

To learn more about Golden West College’s School of Nursing, please visit https://www.goldenwestcollege.edu/nursing/index.html. To explore other Orange County community college career education programs and careers, visit https://futurebuilt.org/.