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'Much needed relief': TCC nursing graduates among those going directly into jobs thanks to special COVID provision

'Much needed relief': TCC nursing graduates among those going directly into jobs thanks to special COVID provision

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Having no previous experience working with cancer patients, Alexa Martin never imagined it would make so profound an impression.

“To get to interact with them and be that encouraging and helpful presence — it was so rewarding,” said Martin, who as a nurse extern this past summer served in an inpatient oncology unit.

The Tulsa resident was excited to learn recently that the experience is going to continue.

Martin has accepted a new job, she said, in a gynecology, oncology and pediatrics unit at Helmerich Women’s Health Center at Hillcrest.

“I’ve always been passionate about women’s health and pediatrics,” she said, adding that she was “thrilled” to find a unit that encompassed both of those patient groups and her newfound passion for oncology.

One of 175 graduates who completed their associate degree in nursing this month from Tulsa Community College, Martin, like many of them, is going straight into a job thanks to a special provision that allows them to work as graduate nurses before obtaining their license.

The Oklahoma State Board of Nursing adopted the provision in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and nursing shortage, and it’s an option for graduates who have met the criteria for the licensing exam but haven’t taken it yet.

Jenny Fields, dean of the TCC School of Nursing, said allowing new graduates to contribute right away “will help with the current nursing shortage we are seeing at every level.”

“Those going directly into the workforce in the coming weeks will be much needed relief and support for our hospitals and front-line health care workers.”

Martin, a 2017 Broken Arrow High School graduate, expects to begin orientation for her new job the first week of January.

From there, while waiting to schedule her licensing exam, she’ll be able to work and get used to the unit, she said.

“This is a great opportunity in case COVID prolongs testing dates and I’m unable to test right away,” said Martin, who’s also working online to complete a bachelor’s of science in nursing through Northeastern State University.

Martin’s fellow nursing graduate Leslie Burwell also has a new job lined up with a hospital; she began orientation last week.

Burwell decided to become a nurse after several years working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office.

“Growing up I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “My mom, who is retiring in January, and my aunt are both nurses, and I have always looked up to them and admired them for their compassion and care they showed their patients.”

As a COVID-19 precaution, the TCC graduates received their traditional nursing pins last week in drive-through fashion at the metro campus. A prerecorded pinning ceremony was made available to them online.

Burwell said she and her mom planned to watch the ceremony on Sunday. They wanted to do it together, so she could be pinned by her mother.

“In a way, it’s like she is passing the torch on to me,” Burwell said. “She’s telling me it’s my turn to to go make a difference.”

TCC’s nursing program offers a two-year associate degree program with two track options: Traditional Track or Career Mobility (LPN/Paramedic to RN).

Officials said the nursing program has produced about 5,000 nurses for the community since its start in the 1970s.

Fields said the new graduates, along with the faculty, have worked hard during a challenging year.

“They’ve adapted, persevered and succeeded,” she said. “Proud doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.”

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