No Scrubs

Lassen Community College Programs Produce Next-Level Nurses

News Center – March 2020


If there’s one thing that sets nurses apart from almost any other profession, it’s toughness. Not just physical strength and emotional grit, but a calm confidence tempered by experience and training.

Elizabeth Harvey had the grit part down. A high school dropout and young mother escaping a bad relationship, “Lizzie” was determined to find her own, independent path to success. When she heard that nearby Lassen Community College was offering stackable health care certificates, she entered the Certified Nursing Assistant program, kickstarting a high-paying career in just a couple of months.

“You do have to make sacrifices,” says Harvey. “But it is well worth it.”

By the time Lassen relaunched its Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program in 2017, Harvey had added six years of professional experience, and had become determined to advance in her profession… come hell or high water.

Just two weeks into her first semester, a major flood hit her hometown of Susanville, submerging roads, evacuating residents, and swelling the Susan River to about 15 feet.

“My entire downstairs was flooded,” recalls Harvey. “The water came up to my thighs.”

But after working so hard to make it into the LVN program, Harvey didn’t want to quit. And thanks to the dedication of her instructors, she didn’t have to. Aware of Harvey’s situation, professor Christi Myers stepped in and helped her make arrangements for relief through the Red Cross.

Lassen also connected Harvey with Susanville’s Alliance for Workforce Development, which paid for all of her supplies, including books and uniforms. Additionally, her tuition was covered through the California Promise Grant (then called the BOG waiver), which took a huge financial burden off of her family.

“I was able to go to school without having to worry about my family,” recalls Harvey.

Of course, she still had to put in the hard work, and Harvey jokes that the journey still entailed “sweat and massive tears.”

For 10 months, five days a week, and sometimes 12 hours a day in clinical practice, Harvey’s teachers held her to the highest standard. It was grueling, but by the end of her training, Harvey felt amply prepared for her new job in a long-term care facility… perhaps more so than the LVNs she met from other programs.

“They were struggling in the field,” Harvey confides, “whereas I was able to hit the ground running.”

Even beyond finally realizing her dream of becoming a nurse, Harvey is grateful for the tremendous influence that Lassen Community College has had on her family.

“Now my oldest son, who just turned 13, wants to follow in my footsteps,” beams Harvey, who anticipates that her child will also someday attend Lassen’s vaunted nursing program.

And he might not even have to wait until college… According to Myers, Lassen is looking to partner with local high schools to create a potential medical academy. Since CNAs can actually get trained and certified as young as 16, it’s the perfect path for high school students looking to “test the waters.”

For many students like Harvey, the school’s CNA pathway is the ideal first step to a career in nursing. From nursing homes to hospitals, CNAs provide basic patient care, with many working in the field as they pursue LVN certification.

“Our Licensed Vocational Nursing program is very intense,” says Myers. “It was created that way because we had such a crazy shortage.”

Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for LVNs remains high throughout California and is expected to expand more than 17 percent annually through 2026. Students graduating from the Lassen Community College LVN program start anywhere from $20-$30 per hour in the region.

The College’s priority is getting students trained and into those in-demand careers as soon as possible. And that, according to Meyers, requires the program to be highly intensive.

“In 10 months, they live, sleep, and breathe everything LVN,” says the professor.

The program boasts a tremendous 97-percent pass rate on the notoriously strenuous NCLEX exam. But the secret ingredient, according to Myers, is the program’s focus on professional development. Students work on portfolios and resumes, and then do mock interviews with local administrators from numerous health care facilities. While students hone critical interviewing skills, facilities benefit by getting a “sneak peek” at potential employees.

“We have the CEO of the hospital giving actual feedback to our nursing students,” says Myers. “That’s definitely helped with huge success rates in getting our students placed into careers literally before they’ve even taken their NCLEX.”

The heart of the program’s success is rigorous, hands-on training through clinical hours, as well as state-of-the-art facilities, including a simulation lab, supported by Strong Workforce funding. The lab includes high-tech mannequins that house comprehensive computerized training programs. Professors can control the lung, heart and bowel sounds, and the mannequins can also bleed and urinate. The “pregnant mom” mannequin can even birth a baby.

“It’s really meant to supplement those situations that we aren’t seeing regularly but we want people to be prepared for,” says Myers. Because of the grant funding, she says that students can have opportunities “that we quite frankly don’t see in rural areas.”

Over the last three years, Lassen Community College’s nursing programs have grown, with prerequisite courses requiring waitlists every term. Now, with Strong Workforce support, it’s making plans to expand classroom space.

“We have the potential to grow by leaps and bounds,” says Myers.

The program also has plans to build an RN bridge program, adding yet another stackable certification. In California, demand for RN nurses is growing at nearly three times the national rate for all professions, with qualified professionals earning an average of $104,410, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Lassen Community College’s bridge program, LVN coursework would count as the first year of RN school, putting students on the fast-track to in-demand nursing jobs.

“We have a huge number of local nurses that really want to take that next step up and become an RN,” says Myers.

Due to the lack of RNs in the area, the local hospital relies heavily on traveling nurses, “which is not cost-effective at all,” according to Myers. Part of the solution are program grads like Mikailia Bustamante, one of the first LVN alumni from the new cohorts earn an RN certification. Bustamante plans to return to Susanville after she graduates and work at the hospital. But that’s not the last of her goals in the field.

“I would really love to teach in the nursing program for Lassen someday,” says Bustamante, who wants to help shape the next generation of nurses with the same outstanding education that she enjoyed. “Lassen definitely prepared us with our assessment skills and being an advocate for our patients.”

Bustamante graduates on May 15, 2020, and her professors – Myers and Celeste Wiser – will be driving two-and-a-half hours each way to celebrate with her.

“Mikailia is outstanding,” says Myers proudly. “We are counting down the years until she is ready to come back and teach with us.”

For Bustamante, the supportive professors and their expert training have made all the difference.

“Everything at Lassen was at the RN level so that when we went to do our RN, we would be that much more prepared.”