Originally published May 29, 2015
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
Caring for critically ill patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a level I trauma center can be an overwhelming experience for a new nurse like Alexandra Escobedo.
Fortunately for Escobedo, who earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from The University of Texas at El Paso, her experience as a nurse technician in the ICU at University Medical Center (UMC) will help ease her transition from student to professional nurse.
Escobedo was one of eight nurse technicians at UMC who graduated from UTEP’s School of Nursing in May.
“We see a lot of traumas,” explained Escobedo, a nurse technician who cared for ICU patients with a variety of critical conditions from respiratory distress to gunshot wounds. UMC is the only level I trauma center within a 270-mile radius of El Paso, which means it is capable of providing care for every aspect of injury from prevention to rehabilitation.
“When you get to the intensive care unit and you’re about to clock in, you never know what’s going to happen,” Escobedo added. “It’s very interesting. That’s what I think I love about the intensive care unit. You have to be really prepared for it all – mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Since 2010, the hospital has hired students in undergraduate nursing programs, including UTEP, as nurse technicians as a way to jumpstart their nursing careers. Under the supervision of a registered nurse, nurse technicians provide basic patient care and perform skills such as nasogastric tube placement and urinary catheterization.
Most importantly, they are exposed to evidence-based nursing practices in a fast-paced environment, said Luis M. Martinez, ICU nurse manager.
“(Nurse technicians) will be getting exposure to real life events such as death, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, hospital emergency codes and family dynamics,” said Martinez, a UTEP graduate. “They get exposed to (hospital) resources and the way you have to critically think to make sure the patient is fine. There are many, many components.”
Nurse technicians work 12 hours a week. They coordinate their work schedules with their supervisor to accommodate their studies.
On the ICU floor, Escobedo and her fellow classmates Gabriella Marquez and Elizabeth Beltran-Muñoz were able to integrate the skills they learned in their critical care class during the seventh semester of the nursing program into their patient care.
“We are able to experience real life situations and do hands-on work,” Marquez said. “We connect what we learned in class with what we actually see firsthand in the hospital.”
Early in the spring 2015 semester, Marquez and Escobedo participated in a hospital emergency code involving a patient who was in cardiopulmonary arrest. They took over chest compressions while the nurses administered medications and dictated orders.
“We get to participate in multiple codes,” Marquez said. “It was really beneficial to us because it eliminated that fear that we may feel when we become nurses since we’ve already experienced it.”
Like most UTEP students, the nurse technicians had to balance their jobs and their studies. In order to graduate, students were required to complete 180 clinical hours in a hospital and 135 hours in a community setting during the final semester of nursing school.
To further enhance their learning experience, the nurse technicians were allowed to complete their clinical rotation in the ICU at UMC, with the clear understanding that their work as nurse technicians was separate from their role as nursing students.
“When you’re a nurse tech, then you work as a tech, but when you’re doing your clinical rotation, you’re a nursing student,” said Melissa Wholeben, Ph.D., UTEP clinical assistant professor. “These students are much further ahead because once they’re registered nurses, they already know the system and they know the community resources that are available to their patients.”
Students also were allowed to complete their community hours in UMC’s risk management and case management departments.
Students shadowed preceptors in the units so they could learn about the different hospital resources available for enhanced patient care.
Elizabeth Beltran-Muñoz did her rotation in the infection control and prevention department where she was able to interact with a variety health professionals about ways reduce and prevent hospital infections.
“I gained so much knowledge that I could apply myself,” Beltran-Muñoz said. “I let my peers know what I learned. Something like this could improve the quality of care for patients and their outcomes.”
Out of the 100 nurses in the ICU at UMC, Martinez said half of them started as nurse technicians.
“One of the recommendations to prevent nurse burnout is to bring them into the environment before they’re hired as a nurse,” Martinez said. “If they come in as a nurse technician, they can hear, see (and) feel what is going on and they don’t go into reality shock. They know what they’re getting themselves into and it’s a win-win situation.”
The community and clinical rotations at UMC also made it possible for students to stay ahead of the learning curve.
In addition to the nurse technicians, seven other nursing students from UTEP also completed their clinical and community rotations at UMC this spring semester.
Martinez said the majority of the nurse technicians who apply for nursing jobs in the UMC ICU after graduation are hired. Escobedo recently interviewed for a job at the hospital and is eagerly waiting to hear back.
“What I love about nursing is that it is an ongoing learning profession,” Escobedo said. “You’ll have nurses who have been here for 30 years and they’re amazing, but they’re always going to ask questions because they don’t know everything. You are always learning something new.”
Students who have completed the fifth semester of the undergraduate nursing program at the UTEP School of Nursing can apply to become a nurse technician at UMC. For an application, please visit www.umcelpasojobs.org.
For more information, contact Luis Martinez at LuisMartinez@umcelpaso.org.
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