Thursday, February 12, 2015 12:00 AM

Hands-on nurses training cultivates cream of crop

As part of efforts to find the best nurses, Community Medical Centers teamed up with West Hills College Lemoore on an innovative program to train new nurses – providing for all the students’ clinical rotations and nurse externships in all of Community’s hospitals. Students are mentored by seasoned nurses, working side-by-side with them providing direct patient care in a variety of clinical settings, including pediatric, burn and psychiatric care.

“What’s exciting about this partnership is that the students of West Hills receive high-level on-the-job training – a super immersed experience,” said Charles Freeman, a retired West Hills administrator who first presented the idea of the program to Community. He had confidence in his top performing students and knew a dedicated cohort program would benefit Community as much as it would benefit his students. 

Nursing students at West Hills College Lemoore practice on mannequins that simulate real patients before they get to their clinical experience at Community Regional Medical Center.

West Hills boasts some of the highest passing rates on the RN-NCLEX, the Registered Nurse-National Council Licensure Examination that tests the knowledge, skills and abilities essential for the safe and effective practice of nursing at the entry-level. First time pass rates have been 100% for several of the past years for West Hills College Lemoore. And West Hills is a local leader in using computerized simulation mannequins to bring clinical emergency events into practice in the school’s laboratory so students get a good grounding in patient care before they step into hospital situations.

The Human Patient Simulator (HPS) mannequins – which talk, simulate breathing and have variable vital signs – provide deliberate practice in a controlled environment. Instructors can manipulate the anatomically precise mannequins’ responses and the HPS can respond to interventions provided by the student. But West Hills’ students say there’s nothing like working with real patients under the supervision of nurses with years of experience in one the state’s busiest hospitals. Freeman said the partnership benefits the hospital training sites too because: “Community receives high-quality, academically well-trained and dedicated students who, at the end of their program can easily be hired into permanent positions because they are already integrated into the Community system.”

Students are required to complete seven semesters of clinical rotations at Community in order to graduate from the RN program including pediatric rotations and psychiatric rotations at the Community Behavioral Health Center. To date, Community has partnered with West Hills in two, two-year dedicated cohorts and has hired 50% of those students who have graduated, and also passed the NCLEX and completed a volunteer externship. A third cohort is scheduled to be completed this fall.

West Hills College Lemoore grad Stephanie Bristol said “I currently live 45 minutes away and could work at another hospital, but stay here at Community for the experience and great staff members.” Stephanie was hired as an RN in the Neuroscience department in 2013 after completing an externship in the Neuroscience department. Stephanie had the opportunity to do clinical rotations in other area hospitals before the West Hills cohort began but feels the training she received through her externship with Community Regional “prepared me greatly for the transition from student to RN.”

“We love the idea of all their students doing their clinical rotations in our hospitals. It has created a talent pipeline for us,” said Carla Milton, Community’s director of education and development. “Students are already highly committed and engaged, have learned our electronic medical records system and policies, and have baseline orientated – making it an easy transition into externships and on-boarding into permanent positions.” 

Mary Contreras, corporate chief nursing officer, agreed that the program is working especially well. “We are looking to expand this kind of innovative partnership to other schools,” Contreras said. Community provides annual clinical rotations for about 1,400 student nurses from schools including Fresno State University, Fresno City College, and San Joaquin Valley College.

Reported by Shannon Merritt. She can be reached at