In Harm’s Way: Nurses Fight Back Against California Wildfires

In Harm’s Way: Nurses Fight Back Against California Wildfires

In Harm’s Way: Nurses Fight Back Against California Wildfires

In Harm’s Way: Nurses Fight Back Against California Wildfires

California is no stranger to wildfires, but this year has been tougher than most. October saw over $9 billion in damage to Northern California as fire raged over 245,000 acres, and this month’s wildfires in Southern California are keeping pace. As of today, over 181,000 acres have been consumed, with over 210,000 residents forced from their homes. A state of emergency was recently declared for the entire state, and the fire is now considered the fifth worst in the state’s history.

And as is the case in nearly all emergencies, nurses are at the center of the chaos—treating existing patients and new fire victims even as flames threaten their own homes and hospitals. Nurses such as Julayne Smithson, a 55-year old ICU nurse in Santa Rosa, who was working the overnight shift when the fires arrived.

Julayne was so busy with her patients that she’d paid little attention to the fire’s location, and was completely caught off guard by how close the flames had gotten. “One of the nurses came up to me and she said, ‘Julayne, I’m sorry, but your house is not going to make it,'” Julayne recounts. She’d only purchased the house in the past weeks, and hadn’t finalized the insurance arrangements yet.

“I was so busy working the last couple of weeks that I didn’t get my insurance, which I never do. I never ever, ever go uninsured,” she says. “I kept saying, ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to do that. Tomorrow, I’m going to do that.'”

With only minutes to spare, Julayne rushed home to save what she could. Faced with a crucial decision, she ultimately decided to save those few things with which she could make the biggest difference: her nursing supplies. She escaped with her scrubs, her nursing documents, and a nightgown. A short time later, she was back at work in the ICU as her neighborhood burned. But the fire wasn’t finished with her yet. Two hours later, the fire suddenly changed direction, and the hospital was ordered to evacuate.

“A lot of nurses and staff were putting patients in their cars and driving them to the hospital,” Julayne told NPR. “And then other people were carrying people on blankets, people who couldn’t walk, and putting them in cars.”

(For more information on the Santa Rosa hospital, check out this video by NBC News.)

But even the hospitals untouched by fires have been impacted. Doctors and nurses across the area have not only taken responsibility for evacuated patients, but have seen a significant number of fire-related injuries and conditions come through their doors as well—particularly asthma and other lung or breathing problems caused by smoke and air pollution. Air purifiers and “closed door” policies are now in place at many hospitals, in an attempt to keep the air inside as pure as possible, and the evolving situation has caused staff shortages in some areas.

One hospital was even forced to rely on generator power after the fires caused blackouts.

“Santa Paula Hospital, which is just miles from the original start point for the Thomas fire, remained opened throughout the evolving disaster, in large part due to the courage and coordination of the hospital staff and efforts of fire rescuers from state, county and local battalions,” said spokesperson Sheila Murphy.

Another hospital, Vista Del Mar Psychiatric, wasn’t so lucky. While the patients and employees were unharmed, the wildfire completely destroyed the building.

It’s a frightening situation for all involved, but as in all difficult times, local doctors and nurses have proven again that they don’t give up without a fight. And if you’d like to help in that fight (and in the recovery), there are many ways to do so. One way is by donating to the local Red Cross (you can find more information here) or by volunteering to help the Red Cross with relief efforts (by clicking here). But be careful… multiple scams have already surfaced seeking to intercept donations before they reach victims. The Ventura sheriff recently addressed the issue, and has a very helpful list of tips for avoiding criminals here.

“Makes me want to be able to go out there and help people,” explains nurse Jody Pinion, a nurse from Charlotte, NC who flew to California with the Red Cross to help at area shelters. “It’s why I do what I do.”

If you’d like more information on beginning your own career as a nurse or medical assistant, contact Unitek College today.

Exercise Alone Won't Shed Holiday Pounds

Exercise Alone Won’t Shed Holiday Pounds… But Don’t Give It Up

Exercise Alone Won't Shed Holiday Pounds

Exercise Alone Won’t Shed Holiday Pounds

Thanksgiving may be over, but the effects of all that food are just settling in. Whether you were one of the lucky ones able to take off work to feast with family, or you took advantage of leftovers after that holiday hospital shift, if you’re like many Americans this week, your bathroom scale may be reading slightly higher than usual. You’re also probably anxious to see that number go back down before you have to buy that larger sets of scrubs. But if you think that just a few extra trips to the gym this week will do the trick, you may be disappointed.

A new study done by Bangor University in the United Kingdom claims that exercise alone rarely leads to weight loss. Of the 34 women who took part in the study, and regardless of whether the test subjects were lean, overweight, or obese, none of those involved lost weight… even after 12 circuit training exercise classes across four weeks.

In fact, for women who are overweight or obese, exercise actually lead to an increase in appetite hormones, the study claims.

“Our body system is so well regulated, that it always finds a way to compensate for a loss in energy after exercise,” says Dr. Hans-Peter Kubis, a co-author of the study. “Whether they are aware of it or not, someone undertaking more physical activity or exercise may experience increased appetite as a result, and this makes it difficult for people to achieve their goals.”

But if you think this means we should start skipping those trips to the gym, think again. Dr. Kubis stresses that while exercise alone may not directly lead to weight loss, it’s still an important part of a weight loss program… along with many other benefits.

“To be effective, exercise training for weight loss needs to be integrated into a lifestyle approach to weight loss, including exercise combined with diet.”

In other words, keep that appointment at the gym, on the running trail, or in that spin class… just make sure you combine it with healthy changes to diet as well. And that may just mean looking the other way when a co-worker brings leftover pie to the nurses’ station.

Of course, a solid (and doctor approved) exercise program can have a lot more benefits than just contributing towards weight loss, benefits such as:

·       Improving your memory – A study found that exercise right after learning can boost your memory (particularly helpful to keep in mind if you’re currently studying to become a nurse).

·       Disease prevention – Exercise has been found to prevent a variety of age-related diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes.

·       Stronger emotional health – Endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are all released during exercise, meaning a happier you.

·       Fewer PMS symptoms – One study found that 80% of subjects had less pain, bloating, and irritation during PMS if they exercised regularly.

·       Social outlets – Exercise classes or running groups are great ways to meet new people. This not only makes the exercise easier, but it also helps prevent the negative health effects caused by loneliness.

In the words of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (MD), “Exercise is not a weight loss drug, and so long as we continue to push exercise primarily (and sadly sometimes exclusively) in the name of preventing or treating adult or childhood obesity, we’ll also continue to shortchange the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise and, simultaneously, misinform them about the realities of long-term weight management.”  

So even though that extra jog this week might not completely counter that third helping of Aunt Frieda’s pecan pie last Thursday, keep that appointment with your jogging shoes anyway. And if you really want to help that bathroom scale number, get ready to pass on the eggnog  and fudge as the Christmas goodies start making their rounds.

For more information on beginning your own career in health care, contact Unitek College today for information on our many nursing and medical assistant programs.

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Life always seems busier around the holidays, and life inside a hospital is no exception. Thanksgiving in particular can often be one of the busiest times of the year for those in the medical profession, and with good reason.

Cooking injuries are one of the top culprits, of course. Minor burns and cuts from food preparation are to be expected during the rush to create the perfect Thanksgiving feast, but the rise in popularity of fried turkey adds a whole new level of danger to the holiday.

“If a turkey fryer is used the way it’s supposed to be used by people who are not impaired by alcohol or drugs, I think they’re fine,” said Dr. Thomas Esposito, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Injuries from turkey fryers are rare, but when they happen to you or a family member, that doesn’t matter – they are very devastating.”

The high volume of holiday traffic also contributes to more visits to the ER. More cars on the road mean more chances of an accident, especially with daylight ending much earlier. Alcohol consumption and drunk driving also rises—the day before Thanksgiving has even earned the title (and hashtag) of Blackout Wednesday among younger drinkers.

But one of the most dangerous culprits at Thanksgiving is also the one that looks the most harmless, the most inviting, and will be in the majority of American homes on Thursday: the Thanksgiving meal itself… or rather, the amount of sodium packed into it.

Dr. Div Verma, a cardiologist at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, has come to expect a 25 to 30 percent increase in patients around the Thanksgiving holiday, according to NBC affiliate KPNX.

“The most common problems are usually shortness of breath, heart failure, palpitations,” Dr. Verma said. “Some people even faint from arrhythmias. If you have valvular heart disease, you’ll come in with heart failure and stuff like that.”

“Salt is the biggest culprit,” she adds. “Nobody really estimates the amount of salt they’re consuming because it is hidden. The food tastes so good, they don’t think about the salt content of the food.”

When we ingest large amounts of sodium (which is hidden literally everywhere in your holiday food, as detailed here), you throw off the internal fluid balance in your body, making it more difficult for your kidneys to remove the excess fluid in your blood stream. This strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys causes a spike in overall blood pressure, and for patients already dealing with heart issues or hypertension, this could spell a serious problem.

Of course, there’s no way to entirely prevent these holiday accidents from occurring. So the best you can do as a nurse to help educate your own friends and families to keep them safe this year, and mentally prepare to help those who will undoubtedly make a holiday mistake or two this week.

No one wants to be in a hospital on the holidays—least of all your patients—and this Thanksgiving, we’re especially thankful for all of the doctors and nurses putting on scrubs instead of aprons, and keeping an eye on the rest of us this week.

If you’d like information on beginning your own career in nursing, contact Unitek College here for more information about our many available programs.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) for Healthcare

What Advances In A.I. Mean For Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) for Healthcare

What Advances In A.I. Mean For Healthcare

The world of artificial intelligence (A.I.) has exploded in recent weeks as scientists, researchers, and programmers make breakthrough after breakthrough in the race to create computers that think for themselves. Whether it’s self-driving cars, Google attempting to rewrite neural networks to better help computers “understand” what they’re “seeing”, or the country of Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to a robot, one thing is clear: artificial intelligence is no longer something out of Star Trek, but something we may start seeing in our daily lives.

But what do all these advances mean for the world of healthcare? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Because AI is able to process images and identify patterns quickly, one of the top healthcare applications is in oncology—spotting and diagnosing various types of cancer. One of the most recent breakthroughs was just made in the detection of colon cancer.

“The most remarkable breakthrough with this system is that artificial intelligence enables real-time optical biopsy of colorectal polyps during colonoscopy, regardless of the endoscopists’ skill,” explains Dr Yuichi Mori, one of the project leads.

The diagnostic program, assisted by AI, is able to check nearly 300 features of polyps found in the colon… all in less than a second. And the results are incredible—of the 306 polyps examined in the test, the AI performed “with a 94 percent sensitivity, 79 percent specificity, and 86 percent accuracy. In identifying abnormal tissue growth, the system demonstrated 79 percent positive and 93 percent negative predictive values.”

In other words, it’s a program that’s very fast, very accurate, and could very well be saving lives soon.

Another team took AI in a similar route, using a Google algorithm originally built to identify pictures of cats and dogs, and turning it into a system to identify melanoma.

And the computers aren’t stopping at just identifying cancer. IBM’s Watson (the supercomputer that won Jeopardy in 2011) is also being used to help prescribe treatments once cancer is spotted. And not only did Watson’s suggestions match doctors’ suggestions 99% of the time, the computer suggested additional options that human doctors had missed in 30% of the tests.

AI is even being used to help spot suicidal tendencies in mental health patients.

That’s a lot of technology developing in just a short amount of time, and the breakthroughs will come faster and faster as AI becomes more and more commonplace. But there’s no reason to fret about the robots taking our health care jobs just yet. These new technologies make it easier for doctors and nurses to spot details and make diagnoses, they help prevent mistakes, and they help keep health care quality uniform from office to office, hospital to hospital. But at the end of the day, it’s still the human touch—your touch—that makes the difference in a patient’s life.

Computers may be expanding health care’s collective brain, but nurses will always be at the heart.

For more information on becoming a nurse or medical assistant, contact Unitek College today.

Battle Against Alzheimer's

Breaking Down Barriers in the Battle Against Alzheimer’s

Battle Against Alzheimer's

Breaking Down Barriers in the Battle Against Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that touches nearly everyone in some way. With over 5.5 million Americans diagnosed, there’s a strong chance that you will come in contact with the disease in some way. And as a nurse, that chance becomes a near certainty.

Watching as someone suffers through Alzheimer’s is incredibly difficult, and can also be difficult to fully grasp. This video (released at the end of 2014) manages to capture some of that confusion and sense of lost time that comes with the disease. Authors Virginia Bell and David Troxel attempt to explain the feeling by asking their readers to imagine that moment from school when the teacher calls on you in front of the class to answer a question, but you don’t have the answer

“How did we feel?” they ask. “We remember the feeling of our collar tightening, voice faltering, palms sweating, and face blushing.” Then they call to our attention that “The person with Alzheimer’s disease is in a giant classroom every day, one in which he or she never has the exact answer.”

It’s a frightening concept, and an even more frightening future. But while there currently isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, advances are being made in the battle against it. And the advance made this year is one of the biggest yet.

Earlier this year, researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto successfully used focused ultrasound to “safely and non-invasively breach the blood-brain barrier (BBB) temporarily in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in a clinical trial”.

The blood-brain barrier exists in our brains to protect the smallest capillaries from allowing anything alien into our brain’s bloodstream. It’s a very important protective system, but one that also prevents potentially life-saving medicines from entering the brain. For those with diseases like Alzheimer’s, this poses a major challenge, but the Sunnybrook trials may have found a way around it.

“By opening up the BBB using low frequency ultrasound, we’ve taken a small but important step that opens up a whole new vista of possibilities,” says Dr Sandra Black, a co-investigator in the trial. “The hope is there may be a way to eventually open up multiple little windows, in a gentle way, in order to get large molecules like drugs and even stem cells into the brain. But we need to take it one step at a time.”

Now that researchers have successfully bypassed the brain-blood barrier, the next step is to use the technology to administer Alzheimer’s treatments while the BBB windows are open. This will mean a second trial, of course, but researchers are optimistic, calling it “a small but critical step that could lead to a game-changing approach to treating one of the most challenging and least understood brain diseases.”

In the meantime, though, there are many resources available for nurses (and family members and friends) who work closely with Alzheimer’s patients. The Alzheimer’s association, for example, has this wonderful article on how to best communicate with a patient during the varying stages of the disease. Lisa Genova gives an informative and captivating talk on what causes (and how to help prevent) the disease, a video available here. And provides a helpful list of caregiver burnout to watch out for—you can’t take care of others, they point out, until you’ve made sure you’ve taken care of yourself.

For more on beginning a career in health care, contact Unitek College today to talk to someone about our many nursing and medical assistant programs.

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Stats and Facts for New Nurses

Our country needs more nurses. That is no secret and has been the topic for countless articles that I’ve read and posts that I’ve written. However, I figure that since you’re in nursing school, one can never get too much good information on this topic. has posted a new article on this subject with a really great graphic that you should check out. Since you’re investing time and money in a nursing program, this should keep you on track and feeling encouraged.

Nurses are still in high demand and this is why:

• Changes in the Medicare reimbursement system that increased nurses’ workloads
• New patient care technology that requires a higher skill level and more education to use
• A perception that nurses are undervalued and overworked, making it an unattractive career path
• Nursing schools that have not kept up with the needs and interests of today’s students
• Nurses choosing to pursue other lines of work or retiring as they age out of the workforce
• Overall population growth (and a big upswing in the percentage of the patient population over age 65)

“In 2004, the projected shortage by 2012 was anticipated to be 800,000. Now, as seen in the infographic below, that expected gap has jumped to more than 1 million.”

Here are some interesting stats about the current job market that I found interesting:

• Male nurses entering the field are up by 20%
• The average age of a nurse is 42.5 years old

Nursing is an exciting career with as many specialties as there are personality types. Like the fast paced life? Try the ER. Want regular hours and a stable routine? Maybe a private doctor’s office is right for you. Do you prefer investing in fewer patients and building a support system for those in need? Oncology might be the path for you. Would you rather work in an office without the demands of a hospital? Health coaches are a rising trend. When you go to a medical training program, there are endless possibilities!

To read the complete article mentioned in this post, please visit