From Classroom to Clinic: Paving the Way for Future Nurses
May 8, 2024
Sutter Health
Two Caucasian women in dark-colored scrubs stand in front of medical clinic building entrance

By Nicole Young, Vitals contributor

During her two days a week at Sansum Clinic’s Pulmonary & Critical Medicine Department, Vanessa Savelich cleans exam rooms and stocks them with supplies.  She greets patients, takes their blood pressure and documents important medical details in their electronic health record.

Her externship is part of Santa Barbara City College’s eight-month, tuition-free Medical Assistant Training Program. Alongside her day job, Savelich attends evening lectures, lab classes and hands-on exercises that give students insight into the world of healthcare. She hopes the MA certificate of completion plus the work experience will make her a more attractive nursing school candidate–at a time when nursing program slots can be limited and patient demand for greater access continues to grow.

Caucasian woman with long, dark ponytail and dark-colored scrubs restocks plastic gloves inside clinic room

Vanessa Savelich prepares an exam room for a patient.

“It’s like getting your sea legs,” she describes. “It gives you a strong foundation before you go to an actual job, and every single aspect is beneficial.”

Sansum Clinic, a 103-year-old nonprofit outpatient health care organization now part of Sutter Health’s Greater Central Coast market, partners with several local academic institutions in Santa Barbara County to recruit and train nurses, however Santa Barbara City College runs the only local medical assistant certificate program. Sansum formed a partnership with SBCC in 2015 to provide medical assistant training students with practical experience.

Bette Lee, a registered nurse who teaches the diverse group of MA program students, some who want to learn about roles in health care and others who view their externship as a step toward nursing.  “I guide [them] to explore all the possibilities so at the end, they clearly see what they might be capable of. That lightbulb moment when a connection happens feels good,” explains Lee.

“What makes this externship program so successful is the partnership with community health care organizations like Sansum Clinic.  We hear what they need, and are able to match our students to the right experience,” says Jeannette Chian, dean of the SBCC School of Expanded Learning.

Pulmonary and Critical Medicine Department Manager and registered nurse Cindy Mathes supervises Savelich and several medical assistants who hope their positions are a launchpad into nursing.  “I have had some great nurse mentors in my life. They always emphasized giving back to those coming into health care,” she says.

Mathes likes that she can evaluate whether her externs have the important qualities needed to become future employees, before they are hired. “We are only as good as what we set ourselves up for. This program helps to show students how they grow their career with us,” she adds.

Advertisement for community college featuring Caucasian nurse with blond hair and blue scrubs sits at a table tapping onto a laptop computer

Kim Hurley was featured as part of an advertising campaign for Santa Barbara City College’s medical education programs.

“Our community and our Clinic are in great need of all these students and graduates,” comments Kim Hurley, is Sansum Clinic’s director of operations. The registered nurse knows firsthand how the nursing shortage impacts staffing and how local education programs which include job readiness can make a difference. Hurley coordinates the placement of students across Sansum Clinic and is an SBCC graduate herself. “These externs are more prepared to care for patients on day one compared to other programs because they get more clinical experience,” she reports.

Savelich will soon become a full-time medical assistant in the Clinic’s Urgent Care while she pursues her dream of becoming a nurse. She says tending to some of the Clinic’s most fragile patients has been a privilege. “Cindy and the whole team were so supportive and really set me up for success. I feel that I can now go into these nursing program interviews with confidence.”

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