SPIRIT OF STANLY: Pfeiffer, SCC programs train students for Stanly’s healthcare future

In the healthcare field, one profession can cover a wide range of care for individuals and communities, from children to seniors, emergency rooms to postoperative wards and clinical care.

Students in two main college programs in Stanly, the Annie Ruth Kelly Associates Degree Nursing Program at Stanly Community College and the Pfeiffer University Nursing Department, earn a variety of degrees which often lead to jobs in the county, at the hospital, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and clinics throughout.

“A quality nursing education can be measured in many respects, such as national accreditation status, highly qualified nursing faculty, state-of-the-art technology, supportive organizational leadership, NCLEX- RN pass rates and job placement upon graduation,” SCC Nursing Director Chassity Speight-Washburn said.

SCC, she said, “provides the public with safe, entry-level nurses from a program that successfully meets all of those metrics. The nursing program is proud of the graduate nurses that serve as part of today’s healthcare heroes.”

Regarding Pfeiffer’s program, Dr. Martha Bramlett, department chair of the nursing program, said she and the faculty “are very proud of our nursing program at Pfeiffer and of the success of our students. It’s gratifying to watch them go out into the world, some locally and others across the country. We give students from both our immediate area and around the country the opportunity to have an excellent education.”

The underlying concept for Pfeiffer’s program is caring, which “forms the basis of what nurses do every day. We also believe that caring is just as central to the teacher-student relationship as it is to nursing and we try to exemplify this in our program.”

“Our students come out of the Pfeiffer nursing program with the ability to provide quality care and the foundation to move into graduate programs that prepare them for advanced practiced in a variety of settings. Our graduates are nurse practitioners, nurse managers and nurse educators and are taking leadership positions in providing excellent care to the public,” Bramlett said.

Those students often get their start while still in high school, with many earning a Certified Nurses Aide (CNA) license.

According to Mandy Mills, director of vocational education for Stanly County Schools, students at any of the high schools can enroll in the Career and College Promise Nurse Aide Program offered by Stanly Community College in order to earn a CNA degree.

“It has traditionally been taught at Albemarle High School, but because of COVID it is being taught on the SCC campus right now. Students will typically take Health Science I and II from our high school CTE teachers before entering the CCP program,” Mills said.

Karen Jaramillo

The world of nursing also includes a new role of nurse practitioner, which is an RN who can diagnose and treat patients.

Karen Jaramillo

While some nurses and nurse practitioners feel the calling from an early age, Karen Jaramillo was undecided after graduating from North Stanly and attending Pfeiffer.

Starting on a pre-med route, Jaramillo volunteered with the Stanly County Health Department as an interpreter, since she was fluent in Spanish because she and her family came to the county from Ecuador in 2002.

It was at the health department where she met the person whose role of nurse practitioner influenced her career path: Patti Lewis.

“She’s the only one I have ever known there, and I fell in love with her role. I saw how much she impacted the nursing field, the medical field and her community. That’s what drove me to pick nursing with the ultimate intent of being a nurse practitioner,” Jaramillo said.

Jaramillo said it was the way Lewis was one-on-one with patients and was a provider to those patients.

Medical doctors “are just not the same as when you see a nurse practitioner,” she said.

She said the combination of being able to decide and diagnose for a patient and being one to “get patients through those times” made her want to be a nurse practitioner.

Along with having a good bedside manner, Lewis was known in the community and was part of programs and resources available from the Health Department, Jaramillo said.

“I have been very familiar for the last 20 years of how involved the local health department is with the Spanish-speaking community,” she said. “A lot of the patient population within my Hispanic community was served by that department.”

She had considered being a veterinarian when she was young, but she “got a little bit more realistic. I saw I had skills that needed to be used with me speaking Spanish… I felt like I needed to do something to really make a difference.”

In her time at Pfeiffer, Jaramillo said she developed relationships with all her professors regardless of the subject.

“There’s just something about that personal connection that I had with all of my professors, especially in the nursing program. I mean, even before I actually chose nursing as my major, I had that same connection with my science teachers,” she said. “It didn’t matter who they were. They knew my name. They knew who I was.”

Graduating from Pfeiffer’s nursing school in 2013, she briefly went to work in Charlotte and eventually earned her nurse practitioner degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. She worked in Troy before moving back to the clinic at Atrium Stanly.

She said she believes nurse practitioners “are in prime time roles for being leaders in the community…it goes beyond the clinic, beyond diagnosis, beyond treatment. It’s leading the health promotion and disease prevention of a community.”

Caity Godfrey

Where as Jaramillo came to medicine later in life, 2011 North Stanly graduate Caity Godfrey said she always wanted to be a nurse.

First wanting to work in pediatrics, she changed her focus once and now works in the surgery center at Atrium Stanly.

Caity Godfrey

On her first tour of Pfeiffer’s nursing facility, Godfrey said she was impressed by the program’s chairwoman, Diane Daniels, who told her the faculty and staff of the school “would do everything in their power for me to pass.”

While warning her of how hard completing the program would be, Daniels said if she had to she would stay with her at her house until midnight studying.

“I knew that was the right place to go,” Godfrey said. “They call it Pfeiffer Pfamily for a reason…we were a big family.”

As many other Stanly County Schools students have previously, Godfrey started learning about nursing while still in high school. Along with the bookwork, SCS students get experience by shadowing working Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) and nurses in Stanly’s facilities.

In Godfrey’s case, she spent two days a week at Bethany Woods Nursing Home, where she said after seeing the care given to residents, “I knew that was something I still wanted to do.”

Helping people has always come naturally to her family, Godfrey said, noting members of her family have been members of Millingport Volunteer Fire Department. She also grew up around others in the medical field.

Many of her classmates when leaving high school wanted to get out of Stanly, go to somewhere bigger for school, and Godfrey was the same way to start with, but said she became homesick while at Lenoir-Rhyne.

“I didn’t realize at the time how much Stanly County meant to me,” Godfrey said.

Working in Stanly was important to her even before studying nursing. Devotees of the chicken and dumplings and other dishes made at Handi-Mart will recognize Godfrey, who worked there for about 10 years.

That focus on working locally continued when Godfrey started working at Atrium Stanly in the surgery center, where she still sees family friends, former teachers and customers from the Burleson Square restaurant routinely come through the hospital.

“You can tell it means so much if they know somebody that’s (working) at the hospital,” Godfrey said. “Especially now with COVID. They’re alone. They’re scared. Just having somebody from Stanly County that you know makes all the difference in the world…there is always some kind of connection you can make.”

One challenge with the pandemic, she said, was how more patients are being taken care of at home instead of at the hospital, something she studied her senior year in a community health class.

“You’re seeing more and more nurses having to do home health care, taking care of patients outside of the hospital,” Godfrey said.

Outpatient surgeries were shut down for the first four months of the pandemic, so like others she saw her job change to different duties, which has led to burnout for many healthcare workers.

“Nurses are tired. They’re overworked. They’re underpaid and understaffed,” Godfrey said.

Despite the challenges, she said she would still advise students they do not have to go beyond Stanly’s borders to get an excellent education in nursing. At places like Pfeiffer, students get more personalized attention, which may not happen at larger institutions, she said.

At Pfeiffer, one of her fellow students passed away, which brought herself and her classmates together like family, she said.

“You don’t have to go out of the county to be a nurse.”

Zach Long

Professionals in the nursing profession come from all walks of life, including a small percentage men.

Zach Long was a 2015 Mount Pleasant High School graduate who found his way into nursing by a fluke.

Zach Long

A friend of his mentioned the Certified Nurses Aide program at SCC, so he went through the program with her. He fell in love with everything about nursing.

Unlike Stanly County Schools students, Long said, he was not offered the chance to earn his CNA degree while in high school. He earned it when he was 20 after working some following graduation.

“(Nursing) was not really what I was planning on doing right out of high school,” he said. “I was thinking I was going into teaching in theater.”

In the year he entered SCC, there were only two other male nurses out of a class of 60 students. Near the end of his first year, he said he was struggling and thinking about quitting.

However, teacher, Angela Hamby sat down with him despite her overly busy schedule to encourage him.

“She sat down and asked me what I wanted with my life. She pretty much convinced me to stay in the program and give it my all,” Long said.

He previously flunked pharmacology, but came back to school and graduated in 2020 with a drive-through ceremony. Long said had it not been for the support system in place at SCC, he probably would have given up.

Being a male nurse is different, he said, but only to a slight degree. Apart from sometimes being mistaken for a physician, which he said is often an automatic assumption, Long said people will see him and remark how much male nurses are needed.

The only time being a male nurse is different is if a female patient needs to be changed. Often they will prefer for a female nurse to do it.

Long works in the intensive care unit at Atrium Stanly, which in the past year has been at maximum capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Immediately upon graduating, he was “thrown right into the COVID patient rooms and told to get to work.”

Dealing with the stress of the pandemic for Long has been to establish boundaries, he said, adding “a good way of getting burned out is constantly being the yes person…at the end of the day, you’re there to help people, but also you have to look out for yourself and keep yourself safe. You’re not going to be able to keep anybody safe if you’re at that point where you’re burned out and overworked.”

When the pandemic is over, Long said he hopes he will be able to look at things and be grateful for how it is since he has gotten used to working in these “extreme times.”

“I’ve kind of gone through the worst of it. Anything else will be a cakewalk.”

Joy Sharpe

One nurse from Montgomery County brings another perspective to the job, having attended both SCC and Pfeiffer and taking her talents back home.

Joy Sharpe

Joy Sharpe was homeschooled. She began taking college and career training classes when she was a sophomore at SCC and Montgomery Community College. She earned her CNA license when she was 16.

Taking classes with older students did not take much adjustment, she said.

“I knew what my goals were and what I had to do to achieve them,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe earned her high school diploma early and entered into the Kelley Nursing Program at SCC when she was 17. She earned a nursing degree last May while working an apprenticeship at Atrium Stanly, then immediately took a position with the hospital in the surgical unit.

The SCC program taught more than just the knowledge needed to be a nurse, Sharpe said. Nursing students get technical hands-on learning right away. She had clinicals her first week in nursing school, she said, where as some students do not do clinicals until their last two years of a four-year program.

Recently, Sharpe left her position in Stanly to work in the recovery room at First Health Montgomery Memorial Hospital, but it does not mean her education is over.

She is enrolled in the bachelor’s program at Pfeiffer, which she said has been interesting because some things taught at a bachelor degree’s level she received previously at SCC, including management, leadership and coordinated care topics.

Studying at Pfeiffer is like being part of a family, Sharpe said, noting she has studied virtually, but the Dean of Nursing Bramlett still finds time to talk to her on FaceTime for 90 minutes.

Pfeiffer wants to get graduates from the SCC nursing program, Sharpe explained, saying the school got her application through quickly, waving microbiology and chemistry until she can take the classes in the fall.

“They really worked with me and they want me to graduate because I went to Stanly,” Sharpe said. “I love the homey atmosphere and how close it was to home. It was just a natural flow for me to go from Albemarle on to Misenheimer.”

She also opted out of several classes because of taking AP classes when being homeschooled.

Already a registered nurse, Sharpe said she wants to earn a master’s degree in nursing.

For future students, Sharpe recommends they keep their future in mind, save their money, but also look for scholarships locally at churches and community groups.

“Be proud of going to either school. It’s hard work.”