ALAMOSA — Melanie Sowards decided to pursue nursing after 17 years in an elementary school classroom.
In 2013 she took a break to give birth to her fourth daughter and spend time with her. She intended to return to teaching but never did. Her first daughter had taken several classes at Trinidad State in 2008 before transferring to study nursing. Sowards considered joining her at that time, but the timing didn’t seem right. Her second daughter finished her nursing degree in 2016. Both women are nursing in Utah. After much deliberation, Sowards, now 47, inspired by her daughters, chose not to return to teaching, but to study nursing instead. She registered for classes at Trinidad State.
One of her classmates is Sowards’ third daughter, Emily Faucette. She graduated high school in 2016, earned her CNA and is working in Alamosa.
“I love my job and I feel like it helps me get a better picture (of nursing) and experience,” said Faucette. Working as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) solidified her desire to be a nurse. At 20 years old, she’s the youngest in the class. “I don’t have my CNA,” said Sowards. “I’m envious of that. My second daughter did that – earned her CNA first and worked through school.”
Although Sowards would like the experience of working in the nursing field as she continues to study, she does credit her life experiences for helping her with the discipline and tenacity needed to complete this challenging program.
Their first class together was the accelerated A & P (both Anatomy & Physiology 1 and 2 taken in one semester) with “Dr. Mel” (Biology Professor Melissa Kleinschmit). They were impressed then, with “Dr. Mel’s” class and they are impressed now with the program. They have completed Level I, their first year. “We hear a lot of positive feedback about the program here when we’re working in the community in clinicals,” said Sowards.
A high school student can earn college credits while still in high school. Called concurrent classes, the credits apply both to high school and to college. By taking enough college classes that qualify for prerequisites, it is possible to complete an RN in an additional two years at Trinidad State. While still attending Sanford High School, Faucette took five college classes: psychology, sociology, precalculus, AP (Advanced Placement) English, and a science class.
At Trinidad State a student can earn a CNA and then work while becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), then work as an LPN while working toward Registered Nurse (RN) and then work as an RN while earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), all the while gaining valuable work experience.
“I love the flexibility at TSJC. There are so many options,” said Sowards.
With the passing of Colorado House Bill 1086 last March (to address the shortage of nurses), designated community colleges may be allowed to offer a BSN by the fall of 2020. Trinidad State is one of the seven Colorado Community Colleges being considered.
Sowards and Faucette started the nursing program in August of 2017 and plan to graduate in May of 2019 with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). But neither will officially be an RN until passing the standardized NCLEX (National Council Life Ensure Examination) which determines whether a nursing candidate is adequately prepared for entry level nursing.
Although they opted not to take summer classes, they are meeting at the college on Mondays to study. “We want to keep what we learned fresh. We don’t want to forget,” said Faucette.
Sowards, added, “It would be harder to get back in the swing of things if we didn’t meet in the summer. Four of us are doing this together to stay in the habit of studying. It’s partly a refresher and it helps prepare us for fall.”
In Soward’s extended family, there are three more nurses – one step-daughter and two sisters-in-law and another step-daughter who earned her CNA. That makes a total of eight women in the family that have studied nursing. Five of them have taken classes at Trinidad State.
Devoted study buddies, the duo will often ask the two oldest daughters nursing questions and those two will often share their own nursing adventures. Nursing is creating an even tighter bond for this already close family. “At orientation they told us we would become a family,” said Faucette. So now, in addition to their biological nurse family, they have a family of nursing students. “We have a great group,” said her mom. “We look out for each other.”
“I’ve enjoyed the time that Emily and I get to study together,” she continued. During the school year, they stay all day and study. They agree with others who have said the nursing program at Trinidad State is a full-time job.
Nursing is multi-faceted with many employment options. Sowards quickly named a few – floor work, management, home health, clinic work, surgery, teaching, home visitation, and travel nurse. There is a shortage of nurses. According to the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, Colorado needs 1,780 more nurses right now. Many baby boomer nurses are reaching retirement age and nurses will be needed to replace them.
“We’ve never had a mother and daughter in the same class,” said Trinidad State nursing instructor Martin Dineen. “It’s neat to have that kind of situation. They’re going to do well.”
To learn more about the nursing program at Trinidad State, contact Nursing Director LoriRae Hamilton at [email protected] or 719-846-5524.
Caption: “I’ve enjoyed the time that Emily and I get to study together,” said Sowards. Although they are not taking classes this summer, the duo has joined two other nursing students to study on Mondays throughout the summer./Courtesy photo by Margaret Sanderson