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Great Falls nursing instructor talks about public's perception of healthcare workers

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Posted at 11:01 AM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 13:01:49-05

No one has been thrust into the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic more than the world’s frontline healthcare workers. Schools and programs around the United States and the world have reported increased demand for spots in those programs during the pandemic.

The nursing programs at Great Falls College-MSU maintain a solid pipeline with healthcare facilities in the area, which means that a lot of students who graduate from the program end up sticking around.

“I would say a pretty good portion of the staff over at Benefis and the Great Falls Clinic,” said Heather Smith, a Nursing Instructor at the college. “This school, particularly, does a very good job of building the nursing ranks in the community. So, we will see a bunch of them working, and right now there is no place as hot a spot as right here in Great Falls.”

The college hasn’t had an open enrollment period since the pandemic began, so they won’t know for sure if there is higher demand for the spots in their nursing programs for a little while longer. Even if there is increased demand, Smith says that the number of available spots won’t increase unless the college hires more instructors for the program.

Nursing instructor talks about public's perception of healthcare workers

Anyone with a nursing background that has an interest in teaching is welcome to take a look at the school’s open positions. Smith explained that the more staff the school is able to hire for their nursing programs, the more students they can take on and produce to be nurses working on the frontlines of this pandemic and healthcare in the future.

“I’ve been a nurse for 30 years,” she explained. “I’ve been at the bedside, I’ve worked in industry, I’ve worked in healthcare administration, and I got to a point where I just really saw that I could make a bigger impact by graduating nurses 20-fold, by graduating 20 RNs a year as opposed to being one nurse at the bedside, so I don’t do as much bedside nursing anymore, but I feel like I’m making a greater impact as an instructor.”

One of the possible explanations that Smith gave for the recent spike in interest for nursing programs is the way that nurses and doctors are portrayed. For a long time, the focus has been on the healthcare workers that are portrayed in television shows in movies, which Smith says are often not accurate representations of the actual work that those workers do.

The focus has now shifted to the work that healthcare workers are now doing on the frontlines of this pandemic. Smith wishes it didn’t take a pandemic for people to understand the “heavy lifting” that happens in the healthcare industry, but acknowledges that this new understanding could have a diverse effect.

“I think there may be a group of people who saw nursing as a lucrative profession who are now maybe rethinking it seeing how much is involved, and I think that’s a double-edged sword,” she admitted. “Certainly, it may decrease the numbers of people who are interested, but I believe it will bring in the right kind of people, the people who are willing to sacrifice for others and go the extra mile, which is what’s needed in the nursing profession.”

As someone who teaches potential future nurses after spending over 30 years working in the field herself, Smith believes that now is an interesting and important time for the future healthcare workers of America and the world. Not only are they being prepped to do some of the most important work that’s ever been done as we continue to fight this pandemic, but a lot of them are having to learn at a breakneck pace.