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A day in the life of a life saver: Middle schoolers scrub in for Junior Nursing Academy

Students outside of the ER during SWVJNA

As the ambulance pulled into the entrance at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital, sirens blaring, lights flashing, one could cut the sense of urgency with a knife. A young woman had wrecked her bicycle and was in bad shape. Deep cuts on her head. A badly swollen and possibly broken leg.

Emergency responders jumped out of the vehicle and opened the rear doors. Inside was a stretcher bearing a young woman in a neck brace. Her leg was purple. She was crying out in terrible pain. The EMTs gently lowered the stretcher from the ambulance, assuring her that she’d be alright, then they wheeled her into the hospital to the only group of people who could save her: a bunch of eighth-graders in scrubs.

That was the scene on Wednesday as the first cohort of the Southern West Virginia Junior Nursing Academy learned about life in the ER.

Students get an operating room experience at Raleigh General Hospital.Students learn operating room procedure at Raleigh General Hospital.

The academy offered 18 area eighth graders a three-day, intensive nursing training experience. The students learned everything from how to scrub in for surgery and the chain of infection to how various medical fields operate.

They worked with nurse instructors at Bluefield State College to see how babies are delivered. They visited an operating room at Raleigh General Hospital and learned all about the process of setting up a safe and sterile environment for surgical procedures.

They also learned about the ER intake process, which brings us back to Beckley ARH.

Once the group had experienced the triage process and stabilized the patient, they gained another remarkable experience.

Melissa Ramsey is a critical care nurse educator at Beckley ARH. She teaches critical care classes and "boot camps" for new nurses coming out of school.

"We’re teaching them what trauma is all about and all the care that goes into getting people in the door, assessing the situation and flying them out if that's necessary," she said.

Students watch the air evac helicopter take off with their mock patient.Academy students watch as their mock patient is airlifted at the Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital by the local Air Evac Lifeteam.

In this case, they found it necessary. Hospital staff called for an air evacuation. Two responders from the Beckley Air Evac Lifeteam entered the building, moved the patient to a new stretcher and wheeled her out to the landing pad where a helicopter – the “Mountain Mama” – was waiting. 

Students watched as the team loaded the patient into the helicopter and took off. The chopper flew out of sight, made a circle and came back in for a landing.

For academy student Lydia Crook, it was the best part of the experience. The Mullens, West Virginia native wants to be a doctor in the military one day, so the experience hit home.

“It was just so cool to see this,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the medical field in some way. I wanted to see if I would like the part that deals with people. If I would like nursing.”

As the helicopter took off into the cloudy sky, she realized she does.

“If you ever have the opportunity to do this, do it,” she said.

Never too young to save a life

Dr. Crystal Sheaves is the chair of the WVU Tech division of the WVU School of Nursing. She said that the academy’s rising high schooler audience is one of the best times to engage young people.

“A lot of them don't yet know what is out there. It's a good age to get them thinking about dual credit courses in high-school, and also a good way to give them a taste of a profession that they perhaps had limited knowledge of before,” she said.

“At this age, they are very eager and hungry for any and all learning. I could just see them soaking up what we were teaching them during the camp,” she said. 

Sheaves said the age group is also a great time to make students realize the power they have to help people now. In fact, every student left the academy certified in CPR.

Students learn how to properly wear OR gear.Learning how to properly suit up for an operation.

“They were really stoked that they got to do that and felt it was really valuable to them to be certified now for things like babysitting or working as a lifeguard,” she said.

Dallas Meadows is from Charlton Heights, West Virginia. Healthcare is in his blood. Both of his parents and multiple extended family members have worked in the field.

He said that he can already use what he learned.

"I've learned how to take vital signs and blood pressure. I learned how use a stethoscope,” he said, holding up the device that was given to him by the camp. 

“And I'm certified in CPR now. That's very helpful. It makes me feel very useful in an emergency," he said.

Another academy student, Hannah Bailey, is from Wyoming County, West Virginia. She grew up around the field, too. She said she was surprised by what she’s capable of. She was also surprised by her favorite experience.

Students work with Bluefied State College nurses to learn about life in the OB.Students worked with the Bluefield State College nursing program to learn about life in the delivery room.

"Definitely the OB clinical. Just the fact that we actually got to witness a birth and how that all works. It was my favorite experience though because I learned so much," she said.

Her mom Jeri is a licensed nurse with 25 years of experience. She was pleased to see that students were learning skills appropriate to the field. She was also glad to see the range of experiences the younger Bailey was exposed to.

"I think this is a wonderful program. She got to experience the OB, and I think it scared her away from boys altogether," she laughed.

"But she got to see exactly what nurses do. She would see me running back and forth when she came to visit the hospital but she honestly had no idea what I really do from day to day. Now she sees why mom's exhausted all the time. She sees what I really do," she said.

All told, the young junior nurse said she had a great experience.

“It was wonderful. I think everyone here is friends now and everybody just clicked," she said.

"I learned that, no matter what, nurses are pretty much a backbone for a doctor. They take vital signs. They do blood pressure and get all the information that the doctor needs.”

A junior nurse is pinned during the SWVJNA pining ceremony.An academy graduate is pinned during the final ceremony at the Erma Byrd Center.

As the group gather in the Erma Byrd Center to celebrate the completion of the intensive program, Bailey contemplated her next steps.

“I think I’m going to take a nap,” she said.

Sheaves said that she plans to continue running the academy program each summer. With such positive feedback – and demands from graduates of the first class – she’s considering working on a more advanced senior academy.

View photos from the academy on Flickr. Be sure to check out great local coverage from WVNS and stories from the Register-Herald about the camp and the pining ceremony.

The Southern West Virginia Junior Nursing Academy was made possible by a partnership consisting of the WVU School of Nursing at WVU Tech, Bluefield State College, Raleigh General Hospital, Appalachian Regional Hospital and the Air Evac Lifeteam. The program was presented with financial assistance as a grant from the West Virginia Center for Nursing.