Alyssa Longee, photo by Sarah Schaub

There’s no coasting to the finish line in nursing education.

Students spend their last month as undergrads working long shifts, often at night, in health care facilities around the state. Typically they finish up right before commencement.

It’s called the senior practicum.

“It’s a transition to practice,” explained Debbie Brinker, Assistant Dean of Clinical Affairs at the Washington State University College of Nursing. “Students get to immerse themselves in the role of a nurse.”

Senior Instructor Sue Perkins said the practicum also cements concepts like time management and organizational skills, and the importance of self-care when working long shifts at odd hours.

Alyssa Longee, a senior nursing student in Spokane, was one of just three people statewide accepted into a competitive Diversity Practicum at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Another WSU student, Ilse Montes de Oca Estrada, also was chosen for that program.

Students accepted into the Diversity Practicum commit to spending additional hours job-shadowing nurses in specialty areas like interventional radiology, psychiatry and behavioral medicine, dialysis, and ambulatory care. At the end of the practicum they meet with a committee at the hospital to give feedback on how the program or the hospital’s approach to diversity could be improved.

Like any senior practicum, “it’s the longest job interview you’ll ever have,” said Longee, a Native American.

There’s no promise that nursing students will be hired, but Brinker notes that a few semesters ago, all 11 WSU College of Nursing students who had their senior practicums at Seattle Children’s were hired there.

Longee hopes it goes that way for her, too.

Her interest in pediatric medicine was kindled after her first clinical experience at Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane. Then last fall, her 11-year-old sister was injured resulting in a weeks-long odyssey that took the whole family from a hospital in Yakima to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, to inpatient rehabilitation at Seattle Children’s.

“It was a pretty intense experience,” Longee said. “It showed me how much family-centered care means.”

Longee said she advocated for her family, explained things to them, and talked to medical staff when her parents weren’t emotionally able to do that. She appreciated the care the nurses took to honor her family’s beliefs. “Regardless of all the tubes, surgical sites, and chaos, her nurses ensured the religious cross my mother requested was always placed somewhere on my sister,” she noted in her application for the Diversity Practicum.

Perkins said that experience gave Longee insight into the art of nursing, rather than the science of nursing.

Like other nursing students in senior practicum, Longee will be required to keep a journal, maintain close contact with a faculty facilitator, and give a presentation on an aspect of evidence-based practice connected with the care she’s providing.

Down the road, Longee said she’d like to work to bring more Native American students – especially first-generation college students like herself – into the nursing field.

First, though, the senior practicum. Her instructors said they think she’ll nail it.

Said Brinker, “Alyssa’s a natural.”

–Story by Addy Hatch