UR pre-college course lets high school scholars explore careers in nursing

Nearly two dozen high school students interested in nursing got a hands-on introduction to the profession this summer at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. They learned how to calculate IV drip rates by hydrating water balloons, donned scrubs and gloves to observe real patient surgeries, and participated in caregiver simulation exercises meant to highlight the difficulties a nurse may encounter when seeing patients and families.

High school students participating in the pre-college program in nursing at the University of Rochester pose in their surgical gowns with Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing Kathy Hiltunen.

High school students participating in the pre-college program in nursing at the University of Rochester pose in their surgical gowns with Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing Kathy Hiltunen.

The non-credit course, offered through the University of Rochester’s Pre-College Programs, gave 19 scholars from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut an opportunity to explore the field of nursing and gain a better understanding of the types of careers they can pursue. Taught by Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing Kathy Hiltunen, MBA, RN, and Nan Meyer, BS, RN, CNOR, an assistant nurse manager and nurse educator in perioperative services, “Nursing: A Career that Never Gets Boring!” supplemented classroom discussion with lots of interactive exercises and demonstrations, giving students a chance to engage with nursing in new and exciting ways.

“They’re high energy,” said Hiltunen, who has worked with adolescents for years as a school nurse at Wheatland-Chili Middle School. “If you want to keep their attention, you have to have them do something.”

The curriculum for the five-day course, designed by Hiltunen and enhanced with new material by Meyer, a student in the UR Master’s in Nursing Education program, did just that. It gave the students opportunities to participate in a number of different scenarios – from learning how to take vital signs to assembling disarticulated skeletal system to dealing with infectious diseases.

Nan Meyer, an OR nurse with nearly 30 years of experience, uses a model spine for demonstration purposes while students prepare to observe a real spine surgery.

Nan Meyer, an OR nurse with nearly 30 years of experience, uses a model spine for demonstration purposes while students prepare to observe a real spine surgery.

“They really liked a lot of the hands-on activities, and they enjoyed the simulation. They got a lot out of that,” said Meyer, who has been an operating room nurse for the past 29 years. “They ended up having a much broader base of knowledge than when they started. They learned a lot about nursing specialties and the fields that nurses can go into, such as advanced practice nursing. There was a lot of reflection, too, and giving them new thoughts on helping people and the struggles that people go through.”

Among the skills learned by students in the pre-college nursing course were how to calculate IV drip rates.

Among the skills learned by students in the pre-college nursing course were how to calculate IV drip rates.

The University of Rochester’s Pre-College Programs feature a number of courses for students interested in learning more about college and particular professions early in their academic careers. For more than 25 years, the programs have welcomed high school students from around the globe to broaden their educational experience, sharpen their academic skills, and help determine their future career path.

Getting and keeping young students engaged in nursing is a critical pipeline for the profession, which has long experienced shortages in the quantity of nurses, and is striving, as a whole, to recruit more men and underrepresented minorities into the field.

“We are committed as a school to diversifying the nursing workforce,” Hiltunen said.

“There’s a large nursing shortage, and we need to get new people – young people – interested in nursing,” Meyer said. “This program provides a means to encourage them and to let them know what they can do with a nursing career. Hopefully, they will choose to do that.”