A nursing shortage on the East End spurred Suffolk County Community College to launch a licensed practical nursing program at its downtown Riverhead center in 2008. And the program is about to gain accreditation from the National League of Nursing.
“It has been a long journey,” said program director Doreen Biondolillo. At the same time, she admits that gaining accreditation is usually a much longer process, and she’s pleased that the school’s program has been 100 percent recommended.
The college accepts 30 students into its 11-month program each year — 10 from St. Catherine of Siena Nursing Home in Smithtown and 20 general applicants. The students from St. Catherine’s are nurses’ assistants whose $4,026 tuition is paid by the institution in return for their commitment to serve there for three years after graduation.
This year’s students were selected from among 256 applicants based on grades and recommendations, Ms. Biondolillo said.
“The students are so responsible and the professors are so respectful that there’s a mutual admiration between them,” said Mary Feder, director of college relations and publications.
Students learn about the history of nursing and are steeped in the responsibility they are assuming in learning to properly dispense medications and administer fundamental patient care. They practice in the school lab and receive on-site clinical training at various institutions.
“It’s really a struggle,” Ms. Biondolillo said of the rigors of the program and the challenge of juggling jobs, family life and studies.
“You find a balance if you want it enough,” said 28-yeard-old Krystle Murnane of West Babylon. She still works at St. Catherine’s as a certified nurse’s assistant while raising a 6-year-old daughter and pursuing full-time studies.
“It’s a great opportunity to better myself,” Ms. Murnane said. “I enjoy taking care of people.”
It’s worth sacrificing other activities, according to Carol Markand of Manorville, 42, because nursing enables you to have “an impact on the ill.” It’s why she abandoned her industrial engineering degree to pursue nursing, she said.
“Health is a really big burden on society and it’s very rewarding to look in patients’ eyes and see you’re having a great impact,” Ms. Markand said. “Everybody complains about society, but we are doing the right thing to have an impact. Learning is power.”
While her children are grown, she still has to balance her studies with a full-time job at Island Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Holtsville. She also does private duty nursing in the few free hours she can find in her busy week.
For Gerard Connolly, 29, of Babylon, leaving work as a chef to become a CNA at St. Catherine’s was a real transition. While his former job was high stress, he said, “If you overcook a steak, you just make another one.” Medical errors can have far more serious consequences, he said.
While learning about Florence Nightingale, the English nurse considered to have been a pioneer in the field, Mr. Connolly said he wondered what she’d make of the advances in technology and procedures today.
“But human needs have never changed,” he said.
As a man in what has often been seen as a woman’s field, Mr. Connolly said some patients assume he’s a doctor or plans to be one. But older patients with whom he works simply accept that he’s a nurse.
Despite the program’s rigors of the program, Ms. Biondolillo said there haven’t been any dropouts. She recalls one program participant who was “petrified” the first time she went out to do a clinical assignment with a real patient.
By the time she completed her studies, however, patients were asking for her, Ms. Biondolillo said.
Before taking over the program, Ms. Biondolillo was a nurse for 40 years. She now describes her job as nursing educator as that of a “facilitator,” charged with guiding students.
“These people come with a thirst for knowledge,” she said. “You need to instill your love of nursing and the art and science of nursing. We want them to be the best nurses they can be.”
While Mr. Connolly said he misses the income from a second job and the time he doesn’t have with his wife and child because of his studies, “It’s the only way I’m not going to have to be working two jobs for the rest of my life.”
“This is like a baby I have here that’s growing up and I’m so proud of it,” Ms. Biondolillo said of the program.
An application is pending in Albany to enable SCCC to expand the program to accept more students in the future, she said. Beyond that, the next step will be to develop “a seamless transition” that would educate practical nurses and put them on track to earn credentials as registered nurses.
But a tight economy will likely keep that from galloping forward immediately, Ms. Biondolillo said.