Nursing students present their research at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Nursing students present their research at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat

Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing student Andi Valdez explains her research project on the care of premature infants to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center registered nurse Michelle Bazile.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The nursing students from Colorado Northwestern Community College who gathered in a conference room at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center this week were examples of the lengths some students in the region are willing to go to establish themselves in a professional career.

The students, who are set to graduate with an associate of applied science and nursing degree on May 25, presented their final projects to medical professionals at the hospital, who have provided them with real world experiences through what the soon-to-be-nurses refer to as clinicals.

Andi Valdez, 25, is a graduate of Craig High School, who currently lives in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and commutes to class in Craig. But Valdez also hits the road to hospitals in Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs as well as in Craig for clinical training.

She began her nursing education at a large hospital in Denver but came back to Northwest Colorado to finish up.

"It's at home and cheaper, and the clinicals are actually better," Valdez said. "Clinicals are where you learn to be a nurse. That's where you get real life experience. There is a lot of hesitation at first. It's very  scary — you're in charge of someone's life."

CNCC has campuses in Craig and Rangely. The estimated tuition cost for two years of the nursing program is $14,025.

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Maria Martinez, 26, has a home she shares with her husband and child in Silverthorne but lives part-time in Craig to attend nursing classes. When she's not in class, Martinez works at the Ebert Family Clinic in Frisco with Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos. That's where her heart lies.

"I know the patients, and they know me. It feels like home," Martinez said. "I definitely want to stay with children or stick with newborns." 

Martinez hopes that her research project, presented on a poster this week at the hospital in Steamboat, will reverse a long-standing health care assumption. The nursing student set out to challenge the prevailing wisdom about whether or not mothers, who bring their infants to a medical clinic for immunizations, should nurse their children while the nurse administers the shot.

"At the clinic, we told mothers not to breastfeed when the babies are getting immunizations because they would associate the pain with breastfeeding," Martinez said.

However, her research suggests the opposite is true. Mothers' milk, Martinez said, contains the hormone oxytocin, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Her hypothesis is that breastfeeding relaxes infants, perhaps making them less sensitive to the sting of the needle.

Asked about the difficulty of multiple long commutes each week, Martinez said, "If you pursue your dreams, anything is possible."

Giving preemies a fighting chance

Valdez is also intrigued with infant care and specifically interested in working with children born prematurely — typically, before 37 weeks. But Valdez's project is focused on "preemies" with congenital defects who are born as early  as 34 weeks and cared for in the intensive care unit of a hospital.

At Yampa Valley Medical Center this week, she presented research she has done on the effectiveness of inducing limited hypothermia to save the lives of infants. Essentially, cooling the brain counteracts the effects of perinatal asphyxia that occurs in two to six of every 1,000 live births and can lead to cerebral palsy.

“You have to be level-headed," Valdez said. "You could get emotional, but your training takes over. Those little babies are amazing, and they're strong."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.