Obtaining a nursing degree is known to be one of the most challenging programs at any college. Heather LaPoint, a nursing professor at Plattsburgh State, aims to make students more comfortable when in real-life situations.
“I facilitate learning,” she said.
In other words, she said she doesn’t stand at the front of a classroom full of scared first-year nursing students and describe everything in mind-numbing detail. Instead, she aims to present new concepts and have conversations with students over what they mean.
“I’m hoping to guide conversations more so than having stagnant lectures,” she said. “Of course we have to lecture a bit. It’s nursing, we have content to deliver, but [I’m] trying to make that happen in a more appealing way.”
LaPoint brings this practice into clinical sessions as well. The PSUC nursing program is unique because it sets nursing students in real-life practices in their sophomore year, which is the first year of the nursing level courses.
During their sophomore year, LaPoint said students will learn every nursing skill for their career.
Whether it be through simulations with mannequins, learning in the lab or virtual simulations, practical skills such as giving medication, giving shots, taking in and taking out various tubes or devices will be covered in the first year of nursing classes.
“Having students active in their learning makes it more meaningful in a way, and hopefully they retain it later,” LaPoint said.
PSUC nursing students use these skills when they are assisting in nursing homes in their sophomore year. Most universities do not have students do clinical work until junior or senior year. As juniors they assist in acute care in Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.
“I gravitate toward the sophomore learners, not that I don’t feel pride toward everything our juniors and seniors do, but nursing is fresh, and it’s exciting with everything that [sophomores] are learning,” LaPoint said.
LaPoint learned how to teach the science and art of nursing while working in the electronic intensive care unit as a practicing nurse. There, she monitored patients through a series of cameras, microphones and speakers and instructed nurses on how to handle the situations that arise.
“That electronic environment really honed my teaching skills,” LaPoint said. “I wasn’t physically there to touch a patient, but there were people there I had to educate as to how to best care for that person.”
She is using the same remote skills as a teacher. When she is with a patient in a clinical setting, they are a team she said.
She works to recognize the obvious nerves that come with being a nursing student assisting in patient care. Not only are there nerves in affecting a patient, but LaPoint also recognizes the performance anxiety that students feel.
“You not taking it in and learning if you’re all wired up and freaked out,” she said.
Eighty percent of medical errors have to do with medication, and this fact can cause students to be nervous about administering. She said a student’s hands may be shaking so much they may be dropping pills on the floor, or not counting correctly.
It’s her job to calm the students nerves through delicate conversations where she reminds the student that they are not alone, and that they are experiencing a learning opportunity together. She pointed out that high levels of anxiety stifle learning in times like these.
“Removing that typically punitive piece of assessment is huge for the student,” LaPoint said. “They have to know they are safe within your instructional care.”
Ella Levasalmi, a junior nursing student, understands how nerves can get the best of a student who is assisting with their first patient. Her clinical session this semester kept her in CVPH from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. some days where she used the skills that she practiced in the labs.
Levasalmi said she has watched LaPoint help many students in the nursing lounge dealing with the stress that comes with the competitive program.
“She won’t lie to you and give you false hope,” Levasalmi said. “But she’ll calm you down and tell you how it is.”
LaPoint said watching the nerves settle and the student perform is her favorite part of her job.
“It’s what I love about teaching,” Lapoint said. “To see that growth in a learner knowing that you are a part of that,” LaPoint said. “When that happens it’s like, ‘Wow that was me.’ It was them, but I was a part of it.”
During her first clinical class, Levasalmi’s group had a miscommunication with their superiors about the privileges they had. When things were awry and the students became worried about their academic progress, LaPoint got involved.
“She remained neutral while being on our side,” Levasalmi said. “She is a great advocate.”
LaPoint describes a ripple effect that occurs in nursing. When a student learns something in their years in college, it ripples out into society and effects the patients encountered in his or her career.
“I taught them how to be a learner for the rest of their lives,” LaPoint said. “Through them, I have affected every single patient they will ever encounter. If that’s not something to be proud of then I don’t know what is.”
Email Jacob Elsbree at firstname.lastname@example.org