List of nursing programs in Los Angeles County

By Selina MacLaren, 17, West Valley Christian Jr./Sr. HS
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Christi Hamilton, head of the nursing program at Pierce College, became a nurse because she wanted to help people.

Christi Hamilton is chairwoman of the Nursing Department at Pierce College, a community college in Woodland Hills. In this interview, she spoke about why teens should consider a career in nursing.

For high school students who will be entering the work force in five to 10 years, what’s the outlook for nursing jobs?
Right now there is a huge nursing shortage so there’s lots of jobs available. I would predict that we’ll still have a nursing shortage because there are so many people retiring. The prediction is that there will still be a shortage in five years.

What kind of education is required for those interested in becoming nurses?
We have classes they have to take before they can apply to the nursing program. They can call Pierce and ask for the admission requirements for nursing. It depends on the student, how many units they take per semester. It can take two years. Then they submit an application to the nursing program—right now we have a two-year waiting time, but you can’t submit the application until you’ve completed your prerequisites. The waiting list time varies and the amount of time it takes for the classes varies, too. Some go to summer school to speed the process up.

Pierce College’s nursing program has a good reputation—what do you think has given the program this reputation?
I think it’s the faculty. The nursing faculty tries very hard to teach the students to the best of their ability. Also, we have access to good hospitals. Nursing students have classes in the classroom and also in the hospital. We go to hospitals all over the [San Fernando] Valley. There are quite a few.

What do nursing students do while they are learning in the hospital?
We have four semesters for nursing—it’s a two-year program—and in the beginning they learn how to be around patients. They might help with a bath, or help a patient with eating, and then later they start giving treatments, so as they go through the nursing program, they learn how to be a nurse.

What is a nurse’s income?
It’s good money, but it varies quite a bit. Some work “per diem” without benefits and make more money—it’s kind of an “as needed” program that pays well because nurses are in such a shortage. Pay varies a lot from hospital to hospital. Most nurses work three 12-hour shifts or five eight-hour shifts and this is considered full-time in most hospitals so they get full benefits, but that varies from hospital to hospital.

Please explain a day as a nurse.
It depends on what unit they’re working on. For those that work in the medical/surgical unit, they go in, get an assignment of patients, assess the patients, give medications or treatments, might give tests—blood tests, x-rays, CAT scans. The nurse basically keeps an eye on the patient and sees if they need anything else and if there is anything the doctor needs to be aware of. A nurse can work in clinics, too, where they basically just work with a doctor.

What is the main difference between working in a hospital and working in a clinic?
Hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so nurses work weekends, holidays, day, night, and most are given an assignment of patients and work with them. In a clinic they don’t have those hours so they might not make as much money. If you work an evening or night shift you can make a “differential” (a higher amount of money). Clinic nurses might just be assisting a doctor.

If teenagers are squeamish about blood, how can they overcome that fear in order to become a nurse? Or do you think that they should evaluate that in their personality and realize that nursing isn’t the right job for them?
We recommend that our nursing students become certified nursing assistants and work in the hospital. It gives them a lot of insight into what nurses and doctors actually do. While they are getting their prerequisites, I recommend that they work in a hospital, because there is blood, and there is a lot more in some areas than in others. Some people might be able to overcome that but some might not.

What personality traits are important for a nurse to have?
A nurse has to be caring. A nurse has to want to take care of other people. They also have to be intelligent and have critical thinking so they can look at a patient assessment and decide what to do. Common sense is also important so a nurse can look at a situation and decide whether or not to call the doctor. We try to teach that through the classes.

What kind of college courses would a nursing student take?
Medical/surgical classes, since that’s the backbone of nursing. Then there are what we call specialties—psychiatric, obstetrical, pediatric, and some hospitals have geriatric too, which is working with elderly. Pharmacology is huge because nurses give so many medications.

What should a student look for when researching nursing programs?
Some place close to their house, since they will be going to lectures and the hospitals. And because there are such long waiting lists, many students put their names into many schools and go to where they get in first.

What should a high school student do to prepare for the nursing program?
Just do well in their classes. Some of their nursing classes they can take while they take prerequisites. Medical terminology is a good class to take to understand medical terms. Physical assessment classes can help too. There are some people that I have met that take these classes while they are in high school. What students want to be aware of is that different schools have different admissions requirements. We’ve had students take psychology classes that aren’t the ones we use for prerequisites, so they had to start over. Be sure of where you want to go and make sure you take the right classes.

Why and when did you decide to go into nursing?
I wanted to be able to help people. I decided when I was a teenager. I would see friends and family and wanted to know how to help them.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your nursing experiences?
Working in the emergency room, we were able to save people’s lives.

How beneficial is the nursing field in the long-term? Is it a stable job that can be kept even as the nurses get older?
The one thing about nursing is that there are lots of places and areas to work in. Nursing is physically difficult, and as people get older it’s hard to work long hours on the floor sometimes. Many people do work their entire lives in nursing because there are so many areas they can work in.

What are the most popular and least popular areas of the hospital to work in?
Well, it really depends on the person. If you don’t like blood, don’t work in the emergency room, where there is a lot of blood. I also worked in labor and delivery, and there is a lot of blood there too. Instead, try something like [working in a] clinic. Some people love working with kids, but some people hate to work with kids because they don’t like sticking them with needles or they want to work with adults, who they can talk to more openly. The nice thing about nursing is that you can do nursing wherever you are. Anywhere in the United States, there are nurses, so you can get a job anywhere.

How to become a nurse at a
community college program

Student nurse Miguel Gutierrez, 14, demonstrates the bandaging technique he learned from clinical instructor Charles Pierson at Pierce College. Gutierrez is a graduate of Chatsworth HS.

Photo by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

1. Select the community college where you’d like to study, and which program you want to pursue.

2. Complete the prequisites (the classes you need to be eligible for the program you have chosen). The prerequistes may vary depending on the college you have selected. You may be required to achieve a certain grade point average.
As an example, before applying for admission to the Pierce College nursing program, students must complete the following prerequisites:
• Anatomy 1 and Physiology 1 or Physiology 8 and Physiology 9
• English 101
• Psychology 1 or Psychology 6
• Microbiology 1 or Microbiology  20
• Psychology 41
• Sociology 1 or Sociology 2 or Anthropology 102
• Speech 101
• Math competency
• Be trained in fire safety and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

3. Apply to the program and wait to be accepted. Many local nursing programs have a two-year waiting list. Some students apply to more than one program to increase their chances.

4. Upon admission, complete the classes in the program along with clinical experience in a hospital. Though the required classes vary at each college, most nursing programs take two years.
Classes in the Pierce College nursing program include:
• Adult Health
• Pharmacology (medications and drug interactions)
• Geriatric Health (care of the elderly)
• Psychosocial Aspects
• Psychiatric Health
• Pediatric Health (care of children)
• Clinical experience