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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Regina Torrez, a student at the Rio Rancho campus of Central New Mexico Community College, is making a life-long dream come true, she said.
“I’ve wanted to go into nursing since I was in middle school,” she said.
Torrez is in the home stretch of a six-year plan to make that happen, and, if things go according to her plan, she should be a registered nurse in early 2014, she said. She hopes to work at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Albuquerque.
“I’m really excited to actually get out in the field and start making a difference,” she said.
Nursing appeals to her because it is a rewarding profession, and because there is such a great need in the world for medical and psychological care, she said. Torrez said that lesson is driven home each time she visits and helps to care for her grandparents.
“The amount of care they need really opened my eyes,” she said, adding that her training has helped her care for them. “(Nursing) helps medically and psychologically. It just seems to put them at ease to know that somebody’s there, caring for them.”
Torrez didn’t take a particularly easy path to becoming a nurse. While some nursing students are fresh out of high school, Torrez said she had to first enter the workforce, taking a job at First Financial Credit Union. Meanwhile, she also became a mom.
With a son, 7-year-old Malichi, she knew she couldn’t juggle nursing school, work and being a parent all at the same time.
“I know some people do it, but being a mom and working and going to school, it was a little much for me,” she said. “I’m fortunate enough to not have to work right now.”
That good fortune is actually the result of careful planning. She worked hard and saved every penny she could for about six years, and was still working while she knocked off the prerequisites for the nursing program. By the time Torrez was ready to enter the nursing program, she had saved enough to leave her job and become a full-time student.
Another student, Matt Bouska, said he also had to do a lot of long-term planning to get into the program. He worked as a carpenter, doing remodel work, building custom homes and other jobs, for 20 years, he said.
“After so many years, it beats your body,” he said. “I started young. I was a high school dropout. … I was one of those guys that was driving nails on the job site, wishing that I could be in school.”
He decided to make a change several years ago, and he and his wife sold off their dirt bikes and other toys, pared down their lifestyle and saved up so Bouska could go back to school.
But the reason he chose to go into nursing really goes back to 1993, when he nearly died in a motorcycle accident. He said this is his way of paying back the medical professionals who saved him.
“I’ve always kind of felt that I owed a debt to help people as well,” he said. “It sparked an interest in me.”
The instructors at CNM are also an inspiration, he said, saying that two in particular, Mitchell Irvin and Michael Shannon, were “top notch.”
The detailed plans Torrez and Bouska made to get into nursing are typical of the nursing students at CNM, according to Diane Evans-Prior, CNM’s nursing programs director.
“(Nursing students) have a plan A, plan B, plan C,” she said. “They have it practically down to the minute, what they’re going to be doing.”
Evans-Prior said Rio Ranchoans expressed a great interest in the nursing program years ago, before the campus was built, and that CNM has followed through on delivering that program. With 25 students admitted into the program every year since the Rio Rancho campus opened in 2010, the local nursing program has trained 50 nurses, with another 25 expected to graduate by the end of the year.
That number will almost certainly increase in the coming years, Evans-Prior said, as Rio Rancho’s nursing program is near the front of the line to grow in the future.
“When it comes time to expand, Rio Rancho is the obvious place where that expansion would happen first,” she said.
Part of the reason for the expected growth is modern nursing labs on campus, she said.
Torrez said there are mannequins for students to practice most any procedure, including inserting a urinary catheter and changing an intravenous drip. There is even a mannequin named Noel that gives birth to a baby mannequin.
“It can simulate contractions, and she’ll make noises,” she said. “I watched … we were all standing around it and we had someone catch (the baby), then we handed off the mannequin infant and simulated what goes on after the delivery.”
Having gone through the process herself, she said it was pretty realistic, but lacked the intensity of an actual birth.
“I don’t think the mannequin screams enough,” she said.