- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

Brittany Devor of Martinsburg, W.Va., dreams of becoming a nurse one day. The 13-year-old says she would like to help suffering people in honor of her grandfather, who died of cancer. She wants to be a nurse instead of a doctor because she believes she would spend more time with her patients.

“It’s a lot of work,” she says. “You have to be patient. You have to put care and effort into it. You have to take your time.”

Brittany is one of 42 students who took part in Inova Nursing Exploration Summer Camp 2003. During July, three-weeklong camps were held for students who will be in seventh through ninth grades this fall. The program provides an opportunity for young people to learn about the world of nursing.

It is hoped the experiences from camp will interest youths in nursing as a career, especially since there is a nationwide shortage of nurses, says Ellen Swartwout, senior director of professional practice at Inova Health Systems in Falls Church.

If the students decide to pursue a profession other than nursing, at least they will have respect for the field and possibly a better appreciation of their own health, she says. Mrs. Swartwout says she plans to follow up with the students in future years to see what career choices they make.

The camp cost $150 for the week, including transportation throughout Inova Health Systems hospitals, lunch and souvenirs, such as a scrubs outfit and stethoscope. This is the program’s third year.

“I hope they realize nurses work in many capacities,” she says. “So they don’t say, ‘Why would you want to be a nurse?’”

In fact, Carol Cooke, senior public relations specialist at the American Nurses Association in Southwest, says the aging baby boomer population will require more nurses, especially since people are living longer and, consequently, requiring nursing care.

Also, current nurses are growing older, and there will be a need for new nurses to replace them. The average age of a working nurse today is about 43.

Unfortunately, the nursing work environment, which often requires mandatory overtime, has driven a lot of people out of the profession, she says.

In response to the national nursing shortage, the Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2002, a bill that aims to improve the nursing profession, was signed into law in August 2002. The law authorizes federal funding for scholarships. It provides loan repayments for nursing students who agree to work in areas where nurses are especially needed after graduation. In addition, the bill includes funding for public service announcements aimed at promoting nursing as a career.

To raise the caliber of nursing services, the law provides grants to encourage the implementation of the Magnet Recognition Program through the American Nurses Credentialing Center in Southwest. The guidelines outline standards for excellent nursing care.

“Many studies have shown that good nursing care is the critical difference in patient outcome,” Ms. Cooke says. “When you have a higher level of nursing care, you have a lower level of mortality outcome.”

Among the students’ activities for the week were learning about cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to take vital signs. They also visited various departments and received instruction from nurses specializing in many fields.

For instance, they visited the operating room at Inova Alexandria Hospital and the hyperbaric chamber (a pressurized chamber used to treat diseases and conditions) at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. They also met a psychiatric nurse, a surgical nurse and a dialysis nurse.

Rene Zelkin, the patient care director in the department of labor and delivery at Inova Fairfax Hospital, used a model to demonstrate how babies are delivered. She also showed the students how a fetal monitor works.

While visiting with Mrs. Zelkin, students made prints of their hands, which illustrated how babies’ footprints are taken after they are born. Students also saw the baby alcove, where the newborns are placed upon delivery.

“I’m in the room with the patient the entire time,” Mrs. Zelkin said to the group. “You bond with the patient… I still have people coming up to me in the grocery store and thanking me.”

Students also toured the pediatric ward of Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. Kathryn Caldwell, 13, of Annandale, volunteered to be hooked to the heart monitor for demonstration purposes. Although she is unsure of her future profession, she wants to work in the medical field as either a doctor or nurse.

“When I was little, I had a fake doctor’s kit,” she says. “I checked everyone in my family.”

Actually, many of the students didn’t know whether they wanted to go into nursing. Laura Giron, 15, of Ashburn, Va., says she decided to participate in the camp to help her clarify her future.

“I thought this would help me decide what field I like,” she says. “I wanted to know what I like best… I’m not sure yet, but what I really don’t want to do is maternity. I can’t see myself doing that.”

Brittany Bascope, 14, of Burke, has a similar dilemma. She wants to be a nurse or a doctor.

“It depends on which job I like better,” she says. “At first, I wanted to be a doctor, but I wanted to see what else I could do in the medical field.”

After a week of nursing camp, Brittany says she might want to be a nurse — for now.

“Nurses are very important,” she says. “People may think they aren’t, but they really are. It makes me want to be a nurse.”

Some of the students had decided already that they want to become doctors. Jonathon Ewings, 13, of Woodbridge, Va., says he wants to be a surgeon. Even though he aims to work as a doctor, he signed up for nursing camp to better understand the field.

“Being a doctor is very emotional,” he says. “People come in and they’re dying … but I’ve learned that nurses do more work than doctors.”

Nurses who are now working in the field hope that there will be an influx of people interested in making the profession a career.

Delores Gehr, a flight nurse on the Inova Aircare helicopter, says she loves her job. During camp, the students received a tour of the helicopter in which she flies. She has worked at Inova Fairfax hospital for 16 years.

“From the time I was 5, I always told my grandmother I wanted to be a nurse,” she says. “I didn’t become one until I was 27. It was well worth the wait.”

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