by Joelle Moran
It’s the ah-ha moments that Peggy Nagle loves about nursing. The moments when her students put together the pieces and solve their own problems.
Nagle, RN, BSN, juggles many balls in her roles at Centura Health’s Porter Adventist Hospital. She splits her time as a clinical scholar for nursing students, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse and coordinator of open heart surgery orientation for ICU nurses.
After 30 years at Porter, she’s enjoying her career, especially the teaching aspect.
“These students come in and they’re frightened to death that they’re going to hurt patients,” Nagle said of nursing students in their third and fourth years. “For two years they haven’t applied what they’ve learned. Watching them evolve to the point where they realize that they can do this, when they have those little ah- ha moments where they’re putting together the pieces and finding in themselves that they can do it. That’s one of the biggest satisfiers of the job.”
In her clinical scholar role, Nagle guides six students through Medical Surgical Nursing One and Two. She’s currently working with students from the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Nursing, but in the past she’s also worked with students from Arapahoe Community College.
Nagle likes the clinical scholar model, she said, because it provides the best experience for the students, staff and hospital. The students benefit because Nagle can pair students with the best role models.
“I’m not only working with students, but with the staff on how to be good teachers and I work with the same nurses and see what their teaching skills are with the students,” Nagle said.
In return, she said, the staff is happier because the nurses get better prepared students to work with because Nagle knows the ins and outs, as well as the politics of the hospital. And the hospital benefits because it recruits good employees, as Nagle said she can “hand pick” those that would make the best nurses and encourage them to come back and work at Porter.
Nagle earned her BSN in 1979 from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She started her career at Porter in 1979 as a nurse on the orthopedic floor, where she spent a year before moving to the cardiac telemetry floor.
After working on those floors for about five years, Nagle said the ICU was short-staffed and begged some of the telemetry nurses to cover, which she did, reluctantly. “I didn’t know anything about ventilators,” she said. “It was intimidating, hoping your patients weren’t going to crash. They indoctrinated me and did a good job. I grew to really like it.”
Nagle said she liked that she had the time to really apply her nursing skills with one or two patients in the ICU, as opposed to the floor work, where the pace is more hectic and nurses are responsible for more patients.
“In ICU you’re really able to learn and think and apply physiology,” she said. ICU nurses have to like multitasking and juggling many balls and technology, Nagle said. “We like puzzles and trying to figure things out.”
After five years in ICU, Nagle got involved with teaching in the ICU. “All nurses have to like teaching, they are almost synonymous,” she said. “You’re teaching other patients, teaching other staff, teaching families. For all nurses, we have to like to teach.”
Nagle started as a clinical scholar seven years ago when she said she was “getting burned out in ICU” and wanted a new focus. A hospital educator thought Nagle would be a good clinical scholar and encouraged her to apply for a position with ACC. It was a natural fit.
“What it did was it made me look at nursing in a whole different way. When you’re teaching, you think how do I explain this to a student,” she said. “It’s a fresh perspective in nursing. It’s been a nice change of pace that allows me to do both.”
In 2006 she earned her Clinical Scholar Certification from the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. The 40-hour accreditation program wasn’t in existence when she started her clinical scholar role. For the first four years, she found her way by seeking out others who were also guiding nursing students and picked their brains on the best ways to teach students.
Being a clinical scholar comes with many challenges and awards, Nagle said. And her students come from all walks of life; some are paramedics or LPNs, while some are 21-year-olds with no hospital experience.
“You have six students and it’s a blessing if all of them are secure, responsible people who have indeed chosen the right career,” she said.
Just as her students are always learning, Nagle acknowledges that she’s constantly learning to be a better teacher.
“My personal challenge is that I’m trying to teach myself not to just give the answers and just take care of them,” she said. “You’re doing them a disservice if you don’t teach them how to find their own answers to questions - to struggle a little bit and be frustrated a bit.”
Nagle said being a clinical scholar also carries great responsibility, as students work under her license and those of the nurses they are assigned to. She also has to ensure that the floor nurses don’t get burned out as well from mentoring and teaching students.
Her years of experience in the ICU are helpful when guiding students who can struggle with the emotions of their first clinical experiences.
She said ICU nurses have to be able to perform confidently in crisis situations and can’t get too emotionally involved.
“It’s a challenge that you face as an ICU nurse, dealing with your emotions and knowing when you can express them, when you can be empathetic and when you can just do your job,” she said.
Nagle said ICU nurses always think of the needs of the patients’ families, whether it may be getting someone a chair or calling the chaplain. “You never forget about the family,” she said.