Admittance procedures come under fire at Clatsop Community CollegeHigh demand has caused squabbling over entry to the Clatsop Community College nursing program.

More than 80 students applied to the program, but only 27 were accepted - nine from Tillamook.

Clatsop is one of many in the state inundated with applicants who heard of the national nursing shortage and attempted to follow the jobs.

But as Astoria resident Katherine Maki learned, it's not that easy. Maki has tried twice for admittance to the nursing program.

"I'm just feeling that I have to start saving for something else," she said. "Because it's out of my pocket. I don't take out loans."

More than 25,000 Oregonians worked as registered nurses in 2000, according the Oregon Employment Department. In Oregon, an estimated 1,700 registered nurse positions were unfilled in 2002, said Kent Ballantyne, senior vice president of a state medical advocacy organization.

While some jobs are going unfilled, many people are hanging onto their jobs in the unsteady economy said Ballantyne Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. But as baby boomers age and require more care, some studies estimate the nursing shortage will grow to 20 percent in the next 10 years.

As the population clamors for nurses, students are clamoring for positions in training programs with limited faculty. But that is where many prospective nurses are getting stalled, said Rem Nivens, spokesman for Oregon Community College Association.

"There's certainly enough people who want to go into the programs and there's certainly enough demand," Nivens said. "The bottleneck comes from the fact that there isn't enough funding for facilities and professors."

At Portland Community College, about 400 people completed the prerequisites necessary to enter a lottery for 124 spots, nursing program director Julia Emblen said.

Instructors neededAbout 16 faculty work in the program, but qualified instructors are often hard to find, she said.

Clatsop has three instructors and a vacancy, which hasn't been filled, said Dave Phillips, dean of instruction.

The school is limited by state funding for a program where training takes place at local hospitals and in college classrooms. The state mandates one faculty member to nine students during the hospital "clinical" training. Some schools have added faculty members strictly for the hospital setting, but Clatsop has not.

The school will maintain its limited entry as it weathers the state's current economic trials, Phillips said.

Competition for the positions focused a microscope on the program's admittance procedures - which are heavily weighted by grades.

This spring, only students with a better than B-average were admitted to the program, Phillips said.

Since the college started the nursing program in 1982, students with better grades were more likely to pass the test for a nursing license than those with lower grades, he said.

Students like Maki, who nearly has a B-average, have to wait another year before applying again. Last year, she was in the top 10, but this year, she dropped to the top 20 because of the number of applicants.

Maki graduated from Astoria in 1993 and went right into classes at Clatsop. That year, she wasn't very motivated and her grades suffered. When she went back to school in 2000, she was a more focused student even though she was working full time while taking classes.

"I can't afford to take everything over," she said. "I'm done with everything. I just need to get into the program."

She's considered entering the program in Longview, Wash., or Portland, but it would take a move away from her husband.

"If clinicals start at 6 a.m., you would have to be up and on the road by 4," she said.

Maki has been working at Columbia Memorial Hospital for four years as a nursing assistant, which give her little clout when entering the nursing program. At 29, she wants nothing more than to become a nurse like her mom, Joan Maki, and live in the county.

"It seems like they're going a lot by grade-point-average, which in my opinion, doesn't make the best nurse," said Joan Maki, who works at Columbia Memorial Hospital.

Her colleague Barbara Oien was a nursing instructor at the college during the late 1980s and 1990s, when the nursing program was developing its criteria for admittance. She believes local people, who pay local taxes, should be given priority for entering the program.

"It's gotten way too paper-oriented instead of actually looking at the person," she said. "A couple people working at CMH have applied numerous times and have not been accepted. That's very hurtful."

'Crash course'This spring, some students took a two-week nursing assistant course after they were accepted to the program. But in the past, students had to take a 180-hour course prior to starting Clatsop's nursing program.

Ocean Park, Wash.-resident Emily Johnson believes the crash course was unfair. Johnson works as a certified nursing assistant at Columbia Memorial Hospital and was in the top 20 waiting for entry into the program.

Even if the nine students were not admitted, Johnson would still be waiting to enter the program. Johnson has nearly a B-average doesn't trump other students who have A-averages, but she's becoming frustrated.

"Why were those students given a two-week little course?" she said. "I don't know why they got special treatment."

Johnson and fellow nursing assistant and applicant April Link presented their concerns to the college board in August.

Cindy Johnson graduated from Clatsop's nursing program last year. The nursing assistant course taught her about her job now as a nurse at Columbia Memorial Hospital.

"It teaches you how to touch patients and talk to patients and do the dirty work," she said. "It teaches you that nothing is not your job."

Eileen Bailey teaches nursing assisting courses at Providence Seaside Hospital. Last summer, one of her two classes were filled by Clatsop students who wanted to ensure entry into the program. Bailey, along with many of the students, was under the impression that the nursing assistant course was mandatory.

The Oregon State Board of Nursing does not require a nursing assistant course, spokeswoman Barbara Holtry said. The school will consider providing the class in the future to alleviate strain on local nursing assistant programs, Phillips said. Students learn nursing assisting skills while taking classes in the college program, and do not need a 180-hour class, he said.

Nurses neededWithout the two-week course, students like Tae Zerangue would have had to reapply next year. Zerangue has lived in Astoria since 1996. He followed his dad from Louisiana to find work in fishing and crabbing, but now he wants a job that is more conducive to watching his 19-month-old daughter grow up.

"I couldn't do the family thing and be on the ocean," Zerangue said.

So he went to college and earned an almost-perfect A-average. He hopes to work in the emergency room, but knows there are many options open to him.

"What you can do in the field, it's almost limitless," he said.

The demand will increase for people like Zerangue as they leave school. The hospital is experiencing a nursing shortage and has hired nurses from a temporary agency to fill vacancies, said Columbia Memorial Hospital's human resources manager, Starla Niemann.

But with a poor economy, some graduating nurses have not yet found jobs, Phillips said.

Oregon Center for Nursing is seeking federal loans and scholarships for nursing students and those who wish to become faculty, Executive Director Deborah Burton said.

An aging Baby Boomer population will increase the need for nurses over the next few years. One study by the Northwest Health Foundation in Portland predicted a 20 percent nursing shortage in 10 years.

"There's only a finite supply of nurses, and way more demand for them because the population's aging," said the Portland-based foundation's Judith Woodruff. "It's not going to change."

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