Strong Community Ties Grow Some of the Best Trained Nurses

There is an energy emanating from the Imperial Valley, both literally and figuratively. With plenty of sun in the valley, you see newly constructed solar energy farms “growing” right next to agriculture farms all along the Interstate 8 freeway. At Imperial Valley College (IVC), you’ll find a local-kid-made-good whose personal energy is one of the reasons why nurses who have completed their program are some of the most sought-after graduates of healthcare employers.

“About 100 percent of our nursing students graduated with a job,” said Dr. Daniel Ortiz, Simulations Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Nursing, Allied Health and Nursing Programs Coordinator, and Assistant Director of Registered Nurse and LVN Nursing Programs at Imperial Valley College.

Technically, 13 of the 14 students were employed by graduation and the remaining graduate was still deciding on multiple job offers.

During his 24 years as a registered nurse, instructor, and professor, Dr. Ortiz has helped prepare more than a thousand IVC nursing students for a career as a healthcare provider. He is constantly engaged with students, employers, and the community to see how the college’s nursing program can improve to better prepare the nurses of the future.

“I love Imperial County, and the more skilled people that we have here, the more people are wanting to stay here,” said Dr. Ortiz, who also graduated from IVC. “Our program is able to collaborate and prepare people for all of these excellent opportunities.”

The curriculum incorporates a broad range of clinical activities with input from local healthcare providers to help prepare students for real world, medical scenarios.

“We have hospital partners that are nurturing our future nurses to be the best versions of themselves,” said Dr. Ortiz. Moreover, through the college’s Career Service Center, nursing students are able to hone their skills with additional experience as a volunteer at health clinics.

Most recently, IVC students in their first to fourth semester helped administer coronavirus vaccines at the college’s first mass vaccination clinic.

I love Imperial County, and the more skilled people that we have here, the more people are wanting to stay here. Our program is able to collaborate and prepare people for all of these excellent opportunities.

Partnering with Employers to Prepare Students to Lead and Protect Community Health

As the coronavirus emerged in New York, IVC nursing instructors increased their focus on training nurses for pandemic protocols. Instruction began focusing on the importance of proper handwashing, maintenance of personal protective equipment, and social distancing.

This careful preparation and a strong partnership with local healthcare providers El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneer Memorial Healthcare District kept the IVC nursing program open while other nursing schools had to close.

“During the thick and brunt of coronavirus where everything was on lockdown, (El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneer Memorial Healthcare District) opened up their doors,” said Dr. Ortiz. “They were the reason why we were able to maintain our active curriculum. Without them, we would have shut down for six months to a year.”

When the county began to receive vaccines and the landscape changed, close-knit local health partners rallied together to act on the latest pandemic information. The group used the nursing process – assess the problem, come up with a diagnosis, plan the best course of action, implement, and evaluate – to create a plan to vaccinate residents.

Because of access to the hospitals to continue their training, students from the IVC nursing program were well-positioned as valuable resources when COVID restrictions changed, and vaccines became available.

“Our students were here to help be a lending hand,” said Dr. Ortiz. “Instead of getting nurses, who are actively caring for people, let’s use our students who are building these skills and ready to use them.”

At the first vaccination clinic held at IVC, the highest risk patient population – 65 and older, and people with comorbidities – were welcomed. About 30 nursing students of varying academic levels staffed the site working to receive patient information, verify dosages, or provide the vaccine shot. Wearing N95 masks and body suits, the future nurses showed their passion to help their community turn the tide against COVID. Dr. Ortiz estimates that there were nearly 1,300 vaccination shots administered on that day.

“Our students now have that real world experience that they can demonstrate to employers that they did something during coronavirus,” said Dr. Ortiz. “They actually played a role, and I credit our students and our local providers that were able to do that.”

He also gives credit to Dr. Martha Garcia, Superintendent and President for Imperial Valley College, for her commitment to host a mass vaccination event at the campus, and the IVC faculty for preparing the nursing students to take on an active role.

“Moving forward, we’re in a better situation. Our students are well prepared, so if we have to do a mass vaccination rollout again, whether we do it here on campus or somewhere in the community, we’ll be ready to act.”