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NMCC’s New Practical Nurses Program Begins in Houlton

Houlton – In an attempt to fill a gap in the healthcare field in Aroostook and beyond, this spring NMCC launched a new program in Houlton, training Practical Nurses (PN’s). The brand new cohort currently has 16 students enrolled in the 45-week program based out of the Houlton Regional Hospital.

The program is the only of its kind offered by a public institution in the state of Maine.

“For the most part a PN can provide all the same services as a registered nurse (RN),” said Jim Brown, administrator at Madigan Health Services in Houlton. “The PN program will play a crucial role to fill our nursing needs as they work in conjunction with our Registered Nurses to provide care to our residents.”

The possibility of a new program first came to light when Rob Moran, the executive director at Community Living Association, also in Houlton, notified NMCC about a shortage of nurses in southern Aroostook. “I picked up the phone and called President Crowley at NMCC and he was very open to the idea and it went from there,” Moran said.

“It was about this time last year we were having a discussion about this,” Brown reflected. “To put this program together that quickly was great, and also to get the support of the provider community.”

“The nursing shortage in the state has many heath care facilities concerned about how they will staff facilities,” NMCC President Timothy Crowley said. “The new PN program has been developed with two goals: to help bring additional qualified people into the nursing profession and to allow RN to work at the top of their license.”

Cassie Carmichael, a student from Houlton, heard about the program from her nurse friends and decided to enroll. “I had a CNA license but it expired,” Carmichael explained, now ready to get back to work after her two boys reached school-age. “I’m just interested in taking care of people and this seemed like the best avenue for me to pursue that.”

The program is being co-instructed by Angela Davis RN BSN and Angela Bickford RN BSN. “There are a lot of CNA’s out there who might not be ready to make the jump to RN,” Davis explained. “Not only is it a great opportunity for employers, but for staff as well. It’s that mid-level step; it’s not as large of a commitment as a two-year RN. Some of our students are cutting back on work hours to participate in the program; this offers a nine-month program and will get them back into the workforce at a different level.”

Some of the students’ schooling is sponsored by their current employer. Lynn Tuck of Haynesville, for instance, heard about the program through her clinical manager at Northern Light Home Care, where she works as a home health aide. Her first thought was that she didn’t have the time, but after being prodded by colleagues insisting she’d be great at it, Tuck decided to respond to the original email: “Count me in!”

Ashley St. Peter is commuting from Caribou in order to further her career. St. Peter works as a Certified Medical Assistant at the Northern Light Health Urgent Care, which will be sponsoring her education. “I love what I do, and was looking for ways to do more,” St. Peter explained. “It’s a great opportunity; even though I have to travel, it will be well worth it in the end.” St. Peter also has two children at home, and credits her family’s willingness to support her as a means to make it all possible. “I couldn’t do it without my family’s support.”

After 34 years working for the Community Living Association, Tonia Shaw took the opportunity to go back to school and advance her license. “I’ve wanted to go back forever,” Shaw explained. “I went to UMPI for phlebotomy and graduated last October, and it just made me want to go further.” Shaw’s goal is to work as an PN for two-to-four years before going for her RN license.

“We really appreciate how responsive NM was, and everybody involved. We’re thrilled it’s happening and even more thrilled that it’s taking place in Houlton,” Moran said.

“The development of this program has been a successful combined effort between health care facilities in southern Aroostook, NMCC, and the Maine Community College System’s Quality Centers Program,” said President Crowley.

For more information about the new PN program please visit nmcc.edu.

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