Tug Valley ARH Nurse Extern Program Offers Answers, Experience

Though Tennisa Pack and Jessica Alfrey both earned their Associate’s degrees in nursing from Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College after following very different paths, they are alike when it comes to how much the Nurse Extern Program at Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center helped in their pursuit to becoming registered nurses (RNs). Ironically, after completing their studies, they both landed in the same Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital, providing highly skilled treatment to some of the most challenging patients.

Alfrey went to Southern directly from high school and knows that she eventually wants to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA). Needless to say, she was thrilled when she was selected to work in the ICU at Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center after nabbing one of the hospital’s Nurse Extern slots. “To get into school working toward your CRNA you must have at least two years of critical care experience,” said Alfrey. “A lot of recent graduates aren’t able to be placed in the ICU right out of school, but after my Nurse Extern program experience, I had the basics and am now working in ICU.”

Pack, on the other hand, views her recent completed studies and upcoming sitting for the NCLEX exam, which is the last step in obtaining her RN licensure from the State Board of Nursing, as a long-held dream. “I always knew I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “I watched my parents take care of their parents. I was probably seven-years-old when my grandmother moved in with us and maybe 13 or 14 when my grandfather began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. My parents showed them such respect that I knew I wanted to do this for others.”

“I became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in 2001 and worked in a nursing home when my children were young and needed me, so I didn’t get my RN degree then,” she explained. “The children don’t need me as much now because they are 24, 22 and 12. I started my pursuit to becoming an RN in 2015 and completed it in 2017.” Along the way she never lost her nurturing tendencies and was voted “Most Caring” by the other students in her class at Southern.

In January, Pack and Alfrey began as Nurse Externs and, according to both, the experience allowed them to bring everything they were studying into focus. “I’m a very hands on learner,” said Alfrey. “I can read a book front to back and still not know how to do something, but show me or let me do it and I’ve got it. Having the Nurse Extern experience really helped me apply my studies to real life. I can’t say enough about all the nurses and other professionals in the ICU as they always had time to explain anything to me.”

Pack agrees about the help provided in the ICU. “They never seemed rushed or unwilling to take the time with me,” she said. “I could ask them anything!” Pack also feels that being a Nurse Extern in a smaller hospital broadens the experience. “You work with everyone in the hospital and every type of medical discipline. It’s very hands-on. In some of the bigger hospitals, the Nurse Externs just get to observe, but here you are expected and allowed to participate.”

Alfrey says that being a Nurse Extern brings a number of perks. “First, they pay you for the hours you work even though you are learning. I have been able to save most of that money and it will go toward my tuition to complete my BSN and CRNA. I know they are offering scholarships for employees and the children of employees to further their education so I’ll be applying for that too because I am now a RN at the hospital. But most of all, being a Nurse Extern gave me real experience. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a nurse until my senior year in high school, but this experience completely confirmed my decision. I remember my first ‘code’ (cardiopulmonary arrest), I was applying chest compressions and it was quite the adrenal rush.”

Another thing both newly-minted RNs agree on is the fact that the Chief Nursing Officer, Paula Vaughan, not only knows everyone’s name, but also demonstrates unfailing encouragement. “I never saw her when she didn’t have a smile on her face,” said Alfrey. “She would greet us and encourage us to be our best every day.”

Pack notes that Vaughan is just one of the many reasons she enjoys her work in the ICU at Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center. “She is so supportive, but then so is everyone. We are a team caring for the community. I am honored to do this work.”

Vaughan feels that today’s nursing students are some of the best she has seen in her long career. “I’m just so proud of every one of our Nurse Externs, Vaughn said. “They really are the cream of the crop. I already have applicants for the next class and the quality is extraordinary. I love seeing them walk through the door on their first day. It’s great knowing when we hire them full-time we will have the next group of leaders ready for the challenges of providing great medical care.”

The Heart of ARH Patient Care

A variety of new programs are being implemented for frontline nurses at the 11 Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) hospitals to enhance the level of patient care.

“Nurses are the heart of patient care and we want to make sure they have every tool at their disposal to deliver the best possible care,” said Joe Grossman, president and CEO of ARH, about the new initiatives.

“It starts as a dual endeavor,” said Dee Hughes, community chief nursing officer (CCNO) at Harlan ARH Hospital.

“Nurses are the largest employee group as being on the frontline, so they know what is going on first hand. We want to communicate from a leadership point of view, but we also want to hear what they have to say. We are working on improving communication and while it might seem like it should come from the top down, it’s really from the top and around because the key to good communication is providing information awhile listening to our nurses and their experiences.”

Hughes notes that Harlan ARH has always been extremely community focused, but she says things have changed in the area, forcing the healthcare system to view how patients receive care and make adjustments to better serve the community. Loss of jobs, drug addiction and more screening as part of the Affordable Care Act is just the beginning.

According to Hughes, there are a number of initiatives being rolled out system-wide that are reshaping the way care is given. This includes employee training, evaluating the best way to staff and retain top employees, a multi-pronged rewards program, improved communication and solid leadership.

CLICK HERE to read more the full story at HarlanDaily.com. 

Scholarship program announced to attract more doctors to Eastern Kentucky

A Medicaid managed-care provider will donate $180,000 to fund up to 30 scholarships aimed at getting more doctors and nurses to Eastern Kentucky.

WellCare of Kentucky announced the program Monday in Hazard.

The scholarships will be aimed at increasing the number of doctors and nurses in primary care and psychiatry, according to a news release.

CLICK HERE to read more about the scholarship program at Kentucky.com.

Two ARH Hospitals Honored with Hurst Gold Standard of Nursing Awards

Whitesburg ARH Hospital and Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center awarded the Hurst Gold Standard of Nursing by Hurst Review Services.

A Family Tradition: 80 Years Experience in One Hospital

Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center’s Martin family are featured on EKBTV their nearly 80 years of combined experience at one hospital.

Nursing: The Challenges Are Worth The Rewards

Carolyn Jones’s day as an RN starts with a 20-30 minute drive from her Perry County home to Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center. Her commute allows her to view the beautiful scenery and mountains that are so much a part of the personality of her community. “It’s not a bad commute,” she says. “I enjoy the time.”

But when she gets to work it’s non-stop. “I’m pretty much on my feet all day, except for when I‘m charting or doing orders. Nursing is a physical job, but it’s also so rewarding. I like helping people,” says Jones, who works 12-hour shifts rotating from a three to four-day work week every other week. “The longer hours have worked well over the years since her husband works the night shift at Hazard Community and Technical College allowing him to care for their 14-year old daughter, the youngest of their three children, while Carolyn works.

“My boys are now grown and married, but my 14-year-old daughter is into everything—soccer, cheerleading, scholastic goals. It takes both of us.” “But the different shifts and ARH’s ability to support me has allowed me to steadily improve my skills and position. Everyone who wants opportunity to grow can do it at ARH.”

When Jones started her career at ARH she was a certified nursing assistant (CNA). In five years she moved into a nursing clerk position, and soon found herself going full-time for her RN licensure. “That was a very challenging time because I had two boys in high school, a younger daughter. I was working full time and going to school full time. I just kept telling myself ‘it can be done’ and we got it accomplished.”

Jones says her time as a CNA gave her an advantage over many of her younger classmates because she went in knowing the basics very well. Her work as a nursing clerk gave her needed insight into procedures, paperwork and how units run. “I just had to put it all together, once I started learning the more skilled aspects of nursing in school.”

She notes she had mentors from work while she went to school, and that allowed her to “learn more quickly and feel more confident. If you want to grow professionally, ARH will give you the opportunity along with support.”

On a rainy January 2017 morning, Jones clocked in for her 7:00 am to 7:00 pm shift and, as usual, had around five patients. The first half hour of her shift is a time when night nurses exchange information and brief day nurses about patients. From there, the day morphs quickly into patient needs, discharges and new admits coming mostly from the ER

“I’m on a med/surg, telemetry floor, so we get all kinds of cases,” she explained. “We have a lot of cardiology and then we have a lot of geriatrics. Nothing stays the same.” Jones says she feels very confident that her patients are getting top-notch nursing care. “When I went to school at Hazard Community and Technical College, the professors in the nursing program were excellent. It was almost one-on-one and they knew us personally and helped us everyday. I just loved them, and much of that is why I love nursing now.”

Back in 1990, when Jones first began working at ARH, she did not have the advantage of tuition reimbursement through ARH, like it exists today, or with student loan repayment, which is also currently available. “I paid for every dime myself, so it’s really great we have these programs. Maybe that will encourage more students to go into nursing.”

With the added programs available, Jones says she would consider getting her Master’s degree, which would take an additional three years. “With additional degrees, I would improve my retirement as well as having more income when my daughter goes to college,” she said.

Retirement is “a long way off,” she admits, “but I can actually imagine it now.” “I’d like a little trip to Destin, FL, sitting on the beach, but who knows!”

Jones thinks the new ARH Visa Rewards Card, which provides employees with monetary rewards for certain milestones or achievements throughout the year, will be a great way to let the employees know their hard work is appreciated. “We all need a little acknowledgement, and the new ARH Visa card does just that by rewarding great work.”

She also likes the concept that she can refer an RN to be hired at any ARH facility and be rewarded $2,000 for the referral once that nurse is hired. “That would go a long way in getting me to the beach” she laughed. “I’m going to look around for referrals.”

As her day comes to a close, Jones admits that one of the absolute best aspects of her job is the team she works with. “They are absolutely the best. Everyone is experienced and if you find you have a problem with coding or something, people are there to help you find the right answers.”

She also acknowledges that, while every job has challenges, she is very grateful for the benefits offered through her ARH employment. “I’m proud to be able to provide for my family, not only with a paycheck, but also with health insurance and other perks. It’s a great package, which cuts down on worry and allows me to provide great nursing care at Hazard ARH.”

Patient Care Is ‘All in The Family’ for the Martins

If you happen to find yourself a patient at Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center, chances are you will come in contact with a member of the Martin family. You’ll be glad you did, because while there are only four family members on the job, they have nearly 80 years of combined experience working at the hospital. They cover everything from the lab to pharmacy, nursing and a medical practice in pediatrics.

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ARH Helps Dreams Become Reality

Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) is a wonderful accomplishment for anyone, but it takes time and money, something Carrie Kiser, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) RN at Middlesboro ARH Hospital, hasn’t always had a lot of. But, Kiser, 26 and a native of Chattanooga, has found a great way to help with both her goals and obstacles.

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Rewards of Working in Healthcare

A career in healthcare or medicine can be extremely rewarding – and it does have many benefits. For starters, there are a large variety of career opportunities for people from all educational backgrounds and interests. For example, individuals who do not want to be around blood, but want to work in healthcare, can work as administrative specialists or one several other “non-messing” positions.

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High-Protein & High-Energy Snacks For Nurses

Snacks can be a nurse’s best friend during long 12-hour hospital shifts. Of course nurses take breaks, but often it is usually not long enough to consume an entire balanced meal. The lingering question is– what is a nurse supposed to snack on to boost energy levels while providing enough calories to sustain those energy levels throughout a shift?

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