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    Amid disasters, LSCPA prepares new nurses

    Recent LVN graduates, from left, Monique Bruno, Tiffany Ashabranner and Baylee Lewis.

    With the deadly worldwide COVID-19 pandemic creating a desperate need for more healthcare professionals, Lamar State College Port Arthur has graduated 40 students from the Vocational Nursing Program offered by its Allied Health Department.
    After they wrapped up course requirements earlier this month, the grads will become Licensed Vocational Nurses after passing the national licensing board exam.
    Traditionally, graduation is celebrated with a pinning ceremony open to family and friends, but because of current restrictions against large gatherings, students had to settle for a portrait with their new LSCPA nursing pin for their scrapbooks or digital sharing.
    This has hardly been a normal 12 months, with students in the year-long program enduring two national disasters -- Tropical Storm Imelda in September and the pandemic, which caused a move to online classes beginning in March. In between, a number of them were affected by the Thanksgiving-eve TPC plant explosion in nearby Port Neches that blew out doors, windows and walls at neighborhood homes and shook foundations for miles.
    Monique Bruno, who recently moved from Groves to Pearland, said she evacuated for four days after Imelda dropped more than 40 inches of rain on Southeast Texas from Sept. 27-30. Then she had to evacuate her Groves home for a week after the TPC explosion. She moved to Pearland, south of Houston, a few months ago and has been commuting to complete her clinical training at local area hospitals.
     “Disasters took a hit on time spent in classrooms and time spent studying because we had to evacuate,” she said. “The pandemic also made it a little more challenging with distance learning.
    “But I think it also helped us become more prepared. We’re in a field where we need to be more adjustable. The pandemic pushed us and showed what we can accomplish and get through.”
    LSCPA Vocational Nursing students are required to attend lecture classes two days per week and typically spend three days a week providing bedside patient care at hospitals, nursing homes, community health clinics, and doctors’ offices.
    For their safety, LSCPA students were not allowed to care for patients who tested positive for COVID-19, but were assigned to other nursing units. Nursing faculty reinforced the importance of proper infection control practices both in and out of the clinical setting.
    Vocational Nursing faculty implemented and facilitated a COVID-19 virtual simulation experience that was prepared and shared by faculty at JoAnne Gay Dishman School of Nursing at Lamar University. Faculty also implemented virtual post-conferences, case scenarios, online discussion boards, and other tools to help the students prepare for the day when they too would need to care for COVID-19 patients.
    “I think we’re always going to have things where we don’t know how dangerous they are. There’s always going to be stuff we don’t know of,” said Tiffany Ashabranner of Orange. “It could be COVID, or it could be a mosquito carrying a new kind of infectious disease.
    “I think it’s important to teach people what they need to be doing not to catch COVID – to be a role model.”
    When school campuses were ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to shut down in mid-March, classroom teaching was replaced with online, or virtual, learning. Lecture classes were conducted via Blackboard, Zoom and other such online apps.
    But nursing and some other technology courses at LSCPA conducted a few small-group on-campus classes.
    “We already had some virtual in place, that we were already using with our clinicals, so that was a good thing,” said instructor Lois Holmes. “We did some face-to-face [teaching] but we had to limit the number of people and clean the classroom before and after. What normally takes two hours, now takes all day.”
    A desire to help people and a joy in doing so was a universal answer from students asked why they wanted to become a nurse.
    “I’ve wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember,” said Baylee Lewis of Groves, another forced to evacuate her home because of both Tropical Storm Imelda and the TPC explosion.

    “Going through all the obstacles has really shown we can persevere through anything and become better nurses for it.”