Interview with Patte Washco, LPN Instructor

As a college instructor and the director of the Practical Nurse Certificate (PNC) program at Maria College in Albany, NY, Patte Washco has a career in nursing that spans more than three decades.


She started her career in 1980 when she graduated from the Broome-Delaware-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Patte went on to earn her Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in nursing from Adirondack Community College, a Bachelor of Science (BSN) in Nursing from SUNY Plattsburgh and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). She is currently enrolled in a Doctorate in Education program.

Patte shares with CareerColleges her thoughts on LPN programs and what will help students be a success in their studies.

Q. How did you end up teaching this program?

A. After a few years teaching as a clinical adjunct where I taking the associate degree nursing students to a hospital setting, I applied for the Practical Nurse Certificate program. I wanted to be part of the PNC program because I love the teaching and lecturing part of the job. I have now been the director at Maria College for five years.

Q. As an instructor, how do you measure the success of a program?

A. We look at a number of things, and amongst them is retention. How many students do we lose per semester? Here at Maria, we are very concerned with our students who were not successful, and we look at that as well as the percentage of students who complete the program. We also track how many of those who complete the program go on to pass the licensure exam.

Q. How can students best prepare for the challenges of an LPN program?

A. It really depends on the student. We attempt to help each student determine what type of learner they are and align them with supports that may help alleviate or compensate for some of their weaknesses. We also try to impress on our students that it may be necessary to make changes in their work commitments, their personal lives, and other aspects of life that somehow sneak up on us and derail us.

Q: Are there specific skills or work experience/background that will help prospective students?

A. Maturity is always helpful. Not necessarily a chronological maturity, but a maturity that comes from seeing people at their best and their worst; one that comes from being able to accept mistakes as a learning experience and as not a challenge to the ego. And of course, experience working in health care is usually an advantage for prospective students.

Q. How do you keep up-to-date with the latest changes to medical practices?

A. We all work as a team since scholarship is so very important to our college community. Each of us on the faculty has our own areas of expertise, and we share updates at faculty meetings. My area of expertise is psych and addictions so I subscribe to journals that deal with that patient population.

I read nursing journals such as Nursing 2012 and the American Journal of Nursing since we need to remain current in all aspects of nursing. I have been encouraged to go back to school for my Doctorate in Education which will help me not only as a nurse but also to best meet the needs of my students as an educator.

Q. What types of internships or volunteer work do you recommend your students pursue while taking your classes?

A. We recommend that our students focus on their course of study. There is so much to learn in such a short period of time that our primary goal is to have our students succeed. We do, however, instill in them a need to make a contribution to society and health care when they have completed their studies.

Q. What associations or professional groups do you recommend to your students?

A. Unfortunately, money is tight for most students as is time and energy. So it can be difficult for them to join groups while still in school. However, we encourage our students to become members of organizations after they graduate. There are organizations specifically for practical nurses such as state associations, and there are others that focus on specific disciplines of nursing. We emphasize that it is the obligation of all nurses to remain involved and active in shaping the direction of both health care policy and their own profession.

Q. Do you recommend any books or blogs to your students to help them learn about nursing?

A. There are many available additional supports for nursing students from the publishers of their text books as well as multiple books that assist students with passing the boards in their state. The trick is to find the book that works well with the individual student's style of learning.

Q. Do you have any experience incorporating newer educational technologies into your courses?

A. At my college, we are always looking for ways to increase the students' chances of succeeding in their quest to become a nurse. We have begun to integrate more interactive forms of classroom instruction as well as looking at the newer trends in education, such as "flipping the classroom," and less of a didactic approach to instruction.

Q. How do you teach students to prepare for the physical demands of the field?

A: We emphasize the need for a balanced lifestyle. Our mothers knew what they were talking about when they said, "All things in moderation." There is no other way to prepare oneself than adequate sleep, adequate nutrition, and perhaps most importantly, adequate exercise and relaxation. Stress management is always a great tool to have in one's toolbox as well.

Q. From your own experience, what are some fundamental characteristics a student must possess to achieve success in an LPN program?

A. A student needs to want to care for clients from their heart, not because it seems like a good career move. They need to be motivated and an active participant in their education. A student needs to be able to take in and process constructive criticism and realize that making mistakes does not mean that you are stupid, but that you are a student who is here to learn.

Q. What real world experience do students get during school? Do they practice on real patients?

A. Students initially are exposed to and taught clinical skills in a lab with simulated experiences. They are tested to make sure they have the competency to move to a real life clinical unit. I am uncomfortable with the term "practicing on real patients" because it sounds like a trial-and-error procedure. Our students have the skills they need to be caring for real patients and provide excellent, individualized care for the assigned client. It is not unusual for clients to request that they be assigned to a student the next day.

Q. What is your outlook on the future of LPN programs?

A. In our area, a local community college has just instituted a practical nurse program. While the area of practice is somewhat limited for LPNs, today's arena of expensive health care and aging populations indicate a growing need for those licensed practitioners who can provide cost-effective and skillful nursing care to particular populations in a caring and empathetic fashion. LPNs meet this demand and will certainly have a role in the health care arena of the future.

Q. What advice would you give students who are thinking about going into this field?

A. I would have to encourage them to enter this field if their hearts are in the right place. There is no easy level of nursing and it cannot be looked at as a job because nursing is a calling. Practical nursing is not easier than any other form of nursing, but it often does allow for a more intimate level of patient care. If knowing that you have eased the suffering of another makes your day, then nursing is for you.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of CareerColleges.com or any other organization.

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