Harlan ARH Hospital Nurse Extern Program offers answers, experience

Photos submitted Amber Howard is currently participating in the Nurse Extern Program at Harlan ARH Hospital, working in med/surg.

Photos submitted Amber Howard is currently participating in the Nurse Extern Program at Harlan ARH Hospital, working in med/surg.

Participating in the Nurse Extern Program at Harlan ARH Hospital, Haley Cook is gaining experience in the emergency room.

Haley Cook and Amber Howard are well on their way to becoming extraordinary nurses at Harlan ARH Hospital, but one of the more critical factors leading to their success was a little surprising — being selected to participate in Appalachian Regional Healthcare’s (ARH) Nurse Extern Program.“I started as a nurse extern in December and by the time I got back to college for the next semester in January, I was a changed person,” said Cook who is a senior at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia. “I originally thought the medical professionals at the hospital might not take me seriously. I thought of myself as a kid, but it was so different. The nurses were so helpful and kind and the doctors took the time to explain complicated medical procedures to me. I can’t really explain it, but when I got back to Lindsey Wilson I was able to better grasp the information. I felt more confident and everything became more focused and relevant.”Howard agrees the Nurse Extern Program was a cornerstone in her professional development. “It was such a big difference in mastering time management skills and experiencing real life medical challenges. I was more confident because everyone helped me grow and made it clear they had my back.” Howard is currently preparing to “take the biggest test of my life,” the NCLEX exam, which is the final step to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). She graduated in May from Union College in Barbourville, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) and is already working at Harlan ARH Hospital as a nurse with a provisional license. The Kentucky Board of Nursing grants provisional licenses once a nursing student successfully completes all requirements to sit for the exam. With that license, they must work under the direct supervision of a RN.“I always knew I wanted to be a nurse and I always knew I wanted to go to Union College so that part was easy, but when I learned about the Nurse Extern Program with ARH, all the parts of my professional development were complete,” Howard said. Through the ARH Nurse Extern Program, students are provided a job, plus the ability to apply for scholarships covering tuition, books, lab fees and daily living costs. “They make it possible for you to focus on becoming the best nurse you can be,” said Howard.

“I love being at a smaller hospital where I get to experience so many different things,” said Howard. “I knew everyone and everyone knew me since I was from the area. I wasn’t just a student. People would come to me for help and I always knew I could go to others for help. You are never left alone.”

Howard, who loves the outdoors and played on the Union College tennis team, originally thought she wanted to go into obstetrics and gynecology but after her hands-on learning experience at Harlan ARH, she knew she wanted to pursue medical-surgical and pediatrics. “I fell in love with med/surg and it put me on the right path.”

Howard works three 12-hour shifts for three days and is off four days. “It’s really effective,” she explained, “because with med/surg you get to know your patients better because you are with them for three days. The first day you get acquainted and then it’s usually very smooth care. Of course you have some admissions and discharges, but the continuity makes for superior nursing care.”

Cook, on the other hand, is loving her time in the Emergency Room (ER). “It’s fast-paced and certainly keeps you on your toes,” she explained. “I’ve seen a lot. I’ll start 10 to 20 IVs each day and I’m getting so much hands-on experience. I inserted an NG tube (nasogastric tube) the other day. I had only practiced it on a mannequin used in the classroom so this was different. The nurses watching me kept telling me I had it and I believed them. A smaller hospital provides you with so much more hands on experience.”

Starting IVs and NG tubes has been only part of Cook’s experience in the ER. “On my second day, this woman was transported by ambulance to the ER. I got to run and get blood for the patient and witness everyone working as a team to get her stable and ready for helicopter transport to Lexington. My heart was racing and I knew I was in the right place professionally.”

Even though Cook had won a scholarship from Lindsey Wilson, the Nurse Extern Program at Harlan ARH provided additional money toward her education. “You are paid to work as a Nurse Extern so that is helpful,” she said, “and then you have the opportunity for more scholarships. Some of the nurse externs even got free scrubs. Everything adds up.”

The extra scholarship money will come in handy for Cook since she is planning on becoming a nurse practitioner, which will require two additional full-time years in a master’s program. “I can do a lot of the work online,” she said, “but Harlan has been so wonderful about working around my classroom demands. Lindsey Wilson is a three-hour drive from here so I plan on coming home two weekends a month to work the 36 hours and get all kinds of hands-on experience.”

Both Cook and Howard agree they are willing to drive the extra miles to work at Harlan ARH, which they both hope to do after graduation and passing the NCLEX exam. “I’d rather drive the extra 20 to 30 minutes to be somewhere I want to be,” said Cook while Howard nodded her head in agreement.

“Harlan is such a wonderful community and the Nurse Extern Program is the total package,” Howard said. “Give it a thought. You get a job working in your field gaining experience; you have mentors who guide and teach you; you can apply for ARH scholarships, and they are flexible about when you work so you don’t have to compromise study time.”

Harlan ARH Chief Nursing Officer Dee Hughes agrees. “I love the Nurse Extern Program,” she said. “I am part of the effort to create the nursing leaders of tomorrow. I love seeing them work and grow into outstanding professionals. They keep me young with their dreams and hard work. I go to as many of the colleges as I can to encourage nursing students to apply for the program. We want to help them be outstanding nurses who are well trained to take care of our community.”