With the health care industry in Alaska experiencing substantial growth, recent nursing graduates from the University of Alaska Anchorage's program are finding more reasons to stay in state. For newly hired nurses transitioning from the classroom to the bedside, it's often overwhelming. Shifts are long and the learning curve is steep. Three recent UAA nursing grads reveal their first-year on-the-job experiences at Alaska Native Medical Center and how they've smoothly transitioned from student to full-fledged nurse.
Born and raised in Kodiak, Ivy Ivanoff knew she wanted to work in health and have the opportunity to travel.
"Nursing seemed like a good choice," Ivanoff said. "I decided to move to Anchorage to attend UAA. I liked that it was close to home and I knew UAA had a really good nursing program."
Ivanoff graduated in August 2015 and was hired by ANMC, where she's worked since last December.
"I did most of my clinicals at ANMC," she said. "I liked the hospital, the nurses, the people. It had a home-like feel for me." Working in the Inpatient Surgery Department, Ivanoff sees something new every day. "We see a wide variety of patients, from those coming back from surgery to people dealing with wounds and infections. Every day is different," she said. Three 12-hour shifts make the workweek pass quickly.
"In this job, you never stop learning," Ivanoff said "Even after graduating from nursing school, when you start working, you still have a lot to learn." She said time management is one of the more difficult transitions.
"You have to figure out what your priorities are, know which patients need to be seen first and what needs to be dealt with immediately," she said.
Ivanoff feels lucky to work at ANMC. "They really advocate education, as well as maintaining a good work environment for the staff," she said.
Her best advice for recent nursing graduates starting their career? "Expect the unexpected."
"I come from a family of nurses," said Liyanne Escalante, who always had nursing in the back of her mind. "The idea was planted early."
After taking a Health Occupations course at the King Career Center during high school, Escalante decided to attend UAA, beginning with pre-nursing classes and was eventually admitted into the nursing program. She graduated in December 2014.
"I chose UAA because I'd heard so many good things about the nursing program. A lot of my friends and family who went through the program said it really prepared them well," Escalante said. "After going through it myself, I can definitely say I agree with them."
Since February this year, she's worked in the Medical Surgical unit at ANMC, performing daily duties like assessing and monitoring patients or dressing and caring for their wounds. She also assists patients with day-to-day activities.
Escalante said ANMC was her first choice for employment, following in her mother's footsteps.
"My mom has been a nurse at ANMC for more than 15 years," she said. "She always told me how wonderful the patients were and how well they treat the staff. I decided to join her there because of that."
She said the most difficult part of her job is seeing patients go through rough times but feels she's making a difference. "I'm glad I can be there for them and help them through it," she said. "I've really enjoyed meeting so many different types of people. I've learned about their culture and gotten to know them through their own stories." And while she knew a nursing career would have its difficulties, she also sees the rewards.
"Sure, it's challenging but it's also very gratifying," she said. "You need to make sure you have a passion for it if you want to do it. It is a selfless profession."
Sometimes it takes leaving home to fully appreciate one's home state, which was the case for Amber Reichardt.
"I left Alaska right after high school the first time I went to college but after a few years, I started missing home and came back," she said. "Now I live about a block away from where I grew up."
After returning, she decided she needed a career change and was drawn to nursing.
"I've always been a caretaker with family and friends, bandaging wounds and taking care of them when they were sick," Reichardt said. "Nursing has been perfect, it just didn't occur to me as a potential career until I'd done a lot of different things."
Reichardt wasn't keen on leaving Alaska again, so she looked into enrolling in UAA's nursing program. "It was very affordable compared to other programs and graduating without debt was important to me," she said. "UAA made that possible." Reichardt graduated in May 2015, applied with ANMC and has worked there since last September.
"I knew I wanted to work at ANMC after doing my clinical rotations there," she said, explaining the medical center is a Magnet hospital, a national honor designated to hospitals by the American Nurses Credentialing Center recognized as the gold standard for nursing excellence. "I wanted to work in an environment where I'd be surrounded by opportunities to learn and grow."
On the Inpatient Surgical Floor, Reichardt monitors patients' conditions, administers medications for pain management and makes their recovery as comfortable as possible after surgery. "I find it fulfilling to know I've made someone's life a little easier," she said. "On the other hand, there are times I'm not able to alleviate their suffering, which is one of the hardest things I've dealt with."
Echoing the other first-year nurses' sentiments, Reichardt sees the benefits of the job as far exceeding any problems. "The hours are long, the work isn't glamorous and it can be scary when people are really sick," she said. "But the emotional paycheck is huge and I know I am making a difference. I've never regretted becoming an RN.
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is actively recruiting nurses to fill positions throughout Alaska. Learn more here.
This article was produced by the special content department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with ANTHC. Contact the editor, Jamie Gonzales, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.