Learning to meet the needs of the future

College gears programs to changing peninsula work force opportunities

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005


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  Kenai Peninsula College instructor Paul Perry, left, watches as students in his Emergency Medical Technician II class practice inserting intravenous needles into each other earlier this month. The slightly painful lesson helps students develop a feel for a technique they will use often on the job. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Traye Turner practices intubating a mannequin during an Emergency Medical Technician II class at Kenai Peninsula College earlier this month. The school will offer a paramedic program this fall.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Due to an increased in demand for health care workers, Kenai Peninsula College has developed new programs to train students in medical fields, has slated a paramedics curriculum for the fall and continues with its third year of EMT courses. The two-year nursing program is up and running as of spring semester and a mining curriculum is being ironed out while students can already take introductory mining classes. KPC continues to install timely courses geared to benefit the economy in the coming years.

Paramedics, EMT program

Dr. David Wartinbee, KPC professor, said as KPC continues to adjust its programs to meet career and economic needs, it stays close to updates in technology, which better prepares students for jobs that lie ahead.

Wartinbee said the rising national need for nurses, EMTs and paramedics also is felt on the Kenai Peninsula. New programs have been developed to address those needs and offer state-of-the-art technology with the guidance of experienced teaching staff.

"Locally, Central Emergency Services has seen an increase in need. The service area has increased, as well as general population. So this became a manpower issue. Kenai Fire Department and Central Peninsula General Hospital have made sure we're meeting their needs," Wartinbee said. "The Nikiski Fire Department donated some equipment, and we get more supplies as it grows."

Working with Wartinbee is Paul Perry, EMT and paramedic program coordinator. Perry has taught EMT classes for 10 years and is looking forward to the paramedic program because of up-to-date training equipment and facilities. Perry said CES has been instrumental as a guide for the program.

"It's nice because our program uses the same technology that CES is using right now." Perry said. He added that Alaska paramedic training is different than the way things are done Outside.

"This is because transportation times are much longer here. Alaska has been on the cutting edge of paramedic technology. We have just always needed to be," Perry said. "There is much more prehospital work that has to be put in."

Wartinbee agreed this makes Alaska unique to the paramedic world and is why Alaska paramedics are some of the best in the nation.

"While Outside paramedics have 10 minutes of patient care, we have the time and the need to do more during the 'golden hour.' It's much more definitive care," he said.

Wartinbee said the time put into the project will be more than worth it.

"The state has been helpful getting it started. My plan from the beginning was to do it right, or not at all. If my name is going to be attached to it, then it will be as good as it can be," he said.

Perry said the education requirements will turn out students who are well rounded.

"They will be able to write, articulate and do math. When they leave here, they will be able to walk in anywhere and do just fine," he said.

Perry said he looks forward to the opportunities that will open with current and future technology.

"My dream is to see paramedics diagnose a heart attack and treat it with clot busters on the spot. The paramedics of the future will fight heart attacks. CES today is very progressive," Perry said.

The paramedic program will take approximately 15 students chosen by a medical review board consisting of local professionals. KPC will take applications this fall.

Nursing program

Kenai Peninsula College has taken an active stance to answer to the expanding need for nurses nationally and locally. This is a trend that has an impact on the local community, said Central Peninsula General Hospital Chief Executive Officer David Gilbreath. He said the hospital stands to benefit from the new two-year nursing program.

"There is clearly a national shortage because the mean age of nurses is high, approaching retirement age. More people will need more health care with fewer nurses in the near future. The need for nurses is approaching national crisis, so growing your own local nurses is important," he said.


Kenai Peninsula College instructor Paul Perry, left, watches as students in his Emergency Medical Technician II class practice inserting intravenous needles into each other earlier this month. The slightly painful lesson helps students develop a feel for a technique they will use often on the job.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Gilbreath said nurses trained here are more likely to remain here.

"This will help because more local graduates are likely to seek jobs here because they already live here. We have needed traveling nurses (provided by a company that charges fees for travel costs and living expenses), which is an acute need of services and is extremely expensive. It costs two to four times as much as hiring your own nurse. I think KPC's program will keep the need for traveling nurses lower."

CPGH supported the program by providing direction and identifying the needs of the students.

Peninsula resident Lynn Senette has accepted the position of term assistant professor of nursing in the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing associate of applied science degree program.

Senette, a registered nurse, has taken leadership of the program because it makes sense for the area.

"It would be to local health care providers' benefit to hire local people who planned on staying here. That means less turnover and less cost. It would be to their advantage to use local nurses trained right here, locally," she said.

Karen Berg, a student in the program, said that's why she got involved.

"I've lived here 37 years, so it's nice to have the program here. Our home is here, so I don't have to go to Anchorage for training. Lucky me. The opportunity was just right, I knew it was my chance," she said.

The next class will begin in January 2007. Applicants to the program stand a better chance of getting in if they already have some sort of post-secondary education, as students are chosen on a point system.

"It is a very competitive program, and the students are highly dedicated to what they are doing," Senette said.

These future nurses will help fill what is becoming a large gap in the profession.

"Our nurses here in Alaska are mostly in the baby boomer generation and getting ready to retire, so the job market is getting ready to open wide up," Senette said.

Mining and petroleum training service

Dennis Steffy, Mining and Petroleum Training Service director, has been closely tied to mining his entire life, having grown up in the small, coal-mining town of Dayton, Pa. The KPC instructor's experience is being put to use training the mining work force for the future in Alaska.

He has lived and worked in Alaska since 1969, coming here to teach at Kenai Central High School, the only high school in the area at the time.

"What's different now is there are getting to be a lot of opportunities in the industry coming through. The people I was training in the mid-1970s are approaching their 30 years. They will be retiring, and so those jobs will need to be filled," Steffy said.

Graduates of MAPTS will receive a professional certificate.

"Now that there is going to be more mining happening throughout the state, we'll be offering actual job skills training," Steffy said.

KPC offers an introduction to mining class as a precursor to the upcoming program. Steffy said the college has been working with people in the industry to find out where the needs are going to be in the future. Pogo has been one of those entities.

According to Northern Environmental Center, Pogo is an underground gold mine that is in the final permitting and construction phases and is expected to be operational by mid-2006. It is owned by Sumitomo Metal Mining Inc. During operation, Pogo will employ about 300 workers.

The program will train people in a vast variety of jobs.

"The mining industry is very similar work to oil and gas with rotating shift jobs. They build a city in the woods, so the jobs are everything it takes to maintain a group of people," he said. "Mining will have a real impact on the peninsula, and there will be job opportunities for Alaskans."

According to Steffy, Alaskans have an edge for the program's opportunities because, "We understand what the state is all about."

He added that he has a lot of faith in Alaskans because things get done right the first time.

Classes will be offered through distance delivery and eventually will have six career tracks concentrating on everything it takes to maintain a mine.

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