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SMC takes nursing message to Magician Lake

Ashlie Herman, a May Southwestern Michigan College nursing graduate from Cassopolis, works in Memorial Hospital’s emergency room in South Bend, Ind. “Over half of our staff is from Southwestern. Our director wants our graduates because we’re ready to go on the floor,” Herman said. “Southwestern is known for its nursing program and produces some of the best.”

Herman, speaking July 20 to SMC’s Magician Lake Home Showcase hosted by Jan and Steve Nakovich, added, “SMC has given me such a huge jump because it prepares you for going out into the real world and taking care of patients. SMC teaches you to listen to your patient and make them the priority. A female patient thought I had been a nurse for five years my first week. She said, ‘You have been phenomenal, the best nurse I ever had.’

“She meant it because I listened to her,” the registered nurse said. “She said that’s not what she gets from other nurses. She had just gotten over cancer, so listening to her story meant the world to her. Nursing is about making a difference in someone’s life.”

“You never know what’s going to walk into an ER,” Herman said. “Having (four) simulation labs is going to be phenomenal. There were things we weren’t able to see in clinical settings, like births. Making a mistake in a safe environment, you can talk about what to do next time. Instructors always pushed us” with repetitive why? questions. “It’s for your own good, and you come out being the best nurse you can.

“Even as a brand-new baby nurse, I feel so much more competent with experience Southwestern gave me,” Herman said. “I feel like I have my feet on the ground. It’s tough, but worth it. They push you for a reason. I’m pretty jealous I’m not going to experience this amazing top-line facility. We’re going to be taking care of you, so we want the best nurses.”

Dean of Nursing and Health Services Rebecca Jellison of Cassopolis added, “We’re very excited. This will enable us to build four high-fidelity simulation labs with mannequins that will allow nursing, medical assisting, EMT and certified nursing assistant students to practice in a safe environment. We’re able to review scenarios for what they should have done.”

Simulations are so lifelike, “We see real tears,” Jellison said. “Our faculty person, Deb Green, makes it so realistic, people pass out. We ask why? why? why? because nurses have to be able to think critically to be prepared for the real world.

“With our new building, in the future we will be able to expand services to more than 40 students each spring and fall,” Jellison said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to 56 students in increments of eight because the state mandates eight per faculty person at a clinical site. We’ll also be able to bring in new programs. Our nursing students all have jobs — probably before they left.

“As we baby boomers begin to retire, there will be a shortage,” Jellison said. “Nurses are lifelong learners. You’re in school for two years, but we initiate them into learning the rest of their lives by showing how to learn.”

Nursing degrees are “typically economically transformative for (graduates) and their families,” SMC President Dr. David Mathews said. “They enter good-paying careers with benefits that can support families. Since the college started conferring nursing degrees” with 20 LPNs, or licensed practical nurses, capped in 1967, “we have produced 2,974 nurses. We want to do that and more over the next 50 years. Our ambitious $9.6 million project — we got $4 million from the State of Michigan — will more than double the size of our nursing facility. We saved $3 million in our building fund, leaving $2.6 million we’re attempting to raise from community-minded people who believe not only in the mission of the college in general, providing access to education and making sure we have highly-trained health-care professionals in our communities, but also who just believe in that transformative power of what we can do for nursing students, who typically stay in our communities. One-hundred percent of our foundation board and 100-percent of our Board of Trustees contributed because we believe in this very deeply.”

Magician Lake Improvement Association President Jim Sullivan welcomed everyone with a brief history of the spring-fed, three-island lake straddling Cass and Van Buren counties.

Sullivan said 350 homes belong to MLIA, found online at