Caring runs in the family

OCCC Nursing-bound student following in her mother’s (and aunt’s) footsteps

Kira, pictured on an Oceanlake Elementary School field trip in 2009. Photo by Niki Price.

In the hospital environment, the focus for physicians is on the medicine, while nurses spend more time with the person seeking help, and frequently are the ones with whom patients will forge the most significant relationships before they leave.

It’s that deeper relationship that motivated recent Taft High graduate Kira Sciarrotta to begin the first part of her Certified Nursing Assistant certification through the Oregon Coast Community College while still in high school, and is continuing to guide her as she plans to attend the college this Fall doing preparatory coursework so that she can later apply to OCCC’s Nursing Program to pursue an Associate of Applied Science Degree.

“I like the connection that nursing allows you to make with the patients,” Kira said. “The doctors aren’t as involved with patient care, and I really like that connection, so this is the road I’m choosing to follow.”


A healthy home

Sciarrotta has learned about the nuts and bolts of nursing in two ways: at home and then while she was obtaining her CNA1, one of two trainings that enable people to work as nursing assistants.

“My mom is an ICU nurse and my aunt is a surgical nurse, so I grew up around it,” she said. “I really know what I am getting into.”

During training, a mix of classwork and on the job experience, CNA students spend three weeks during which they are assigned to a CNA at a hospital twice a week, for eight hours a day.

“Basically we were doing shifts at the hospital with the help of our trainers,” she said. “The fourth week, we did one 12-hour shift so we got to see what it will be like when we are really working in the field.”

The hard work done by health professionals in something Sciarrotta has seen firsthand.

“My mom works two 12-hour shifts a week and still takes really good care of four kids,” she said. “She’s a huge inspiration for me.”

And she is not just following in the footsteps of the influential women in her life by her career choice, but by her choice of colleges, too. Kira’s mother and aunt both graduated from the Oregon Coast Community College nursing program.

“My mom and aunt both went through it, so I know the program and am known to some of the instructors, which is nice.”


True grit

Linda Mollino, Director of Career and Technical Education Programs: Human Services Careers, says she admired the persistence Sciarrotta showed when the ambitious teen first applied to the CNA Program.

“Kira’s was an interesting situation,” Mollino said. “We received grant funds to give six people the opportunity to do the CNA program last year, but the rules state they have to be eighteen years old.”

Kira was seventeen.

Staff from the college and from participating high schools work to identify potential students that they believe will excel and succeed in the CNA program, and Mollino defers to their judgement when it comes time to offer the spots.

“She was persistent and had done well in high school,” Mollino said, “so I said if the counselors recommended her, we would work with her.” Glowing recommendations from counselors followed, and Kira was admitted to the program.

Sciarrotta continued to impress Mollino as she worked through the program requirements.

“She’s special,” Mollino said. “Not only was she a delight in class, but she’s the sort of student that you just have a lot of confidence in – confidence that they will have a bright future.”

Beginning with Fall 2018 term, Kira Sciarrotta will be working on pre-reqs in preparation for applying to the OCCC Nursing Program.

Bigger isn’t always better

A lifelong Lincoln City resident, Sciarrotta feels lucky to have OCCC as her local school.

“The college experience I’ve had has been amazing,” she said. “I love OCCC so much. The campus is so pretty, and the emphasis they have on mapping things out, so that if you don’t know what you’re missing they can help you figure it out, is so helpful. Small schools can get a bad reputation, but it’s nice to know that someone knows who you are and is willing to work with you. I’m sure that’s harder in bigger schools.”

Mollino, who has worked at the college since 2007, agrees.

“There’s something about Lincoln County and our college,” she said. “There’s more of an intimacy; the students really know we are invested in their success. Not that we aren’t hard on them, but we know them by their first names, and in many cases we know their families.”

Sciarrotta felt that though the school was small, there was no small effort to provide the students with what they would need to succeed.

“They have incredible labs where we can run through different scenarios,” she said. “They’ve put a lot of money into the program, and it shows.”

She also received a lot of help wading through the sometimes-daunting river of scholastic red tape.

“At the end of my senior year of high school, the staff at OCCC really helped me with planning my schedule and understanding my options for financial aid,” she said. “It definitely helped make the process less stressful.”

Mollino noted that college staff also help make connections between recent graduates and potential employers.

“When we are graduating a class we let the hospitals know who has finished our program, and go that extra mile to tell them about the particular strengths of each person. It really helps in the hiring process when you can make it personal.”


Room to grow

During her decade at the College, Mollino has seen not just an impressive number of graduates from the nursing degree and certification programs, but a growth in what the college offers in the healthcare field.

“We’ve added EMT, medical assisting, and early childhood education programs,” she said, adding that a benefit of many of these is that they enable people to stay in the area and still find employment.

“It’s amazing to see our graduates all over the local hospitals, and for people to find out that they did all of their prerequisites here on the coast.”

OCCC’s Early Childhood Education Program is brand new, and will launch in the Winter 2019 term.


Future forward

Sciarrotta is considering a specialty that may take her elsewhere for continued education. Luckily, we will have her here for at least the next few years.

“I’d like to eventually work in pediatrics,” she said. “But I plan to work as a CNA locally while I’m finishing my nursing prerequisites and the nursing degree program.”

Whether graduates stay or not, though, the OCCC program has a significant local impact.

“I believe our program has changed the level of healthcare in Lincoln County,” Mollino said. “The new energy of our students – especially the young ones – brings change, and that’s really positive.”

Mollino herself has had an impact on the students with whom she’s interacted, like Sciarrotta, who named both her and Nursing Faculty Advisor Lynn Barton as having been a huge help and influence.

Mollino recalled a chance encounter she had over a cup of coffee in Newport – an encounter that impacted more than one life directly.

“Once I went into a small cafe in Nye Beach and struck up a conversation with a woman working there who, when she found out what I do, said, ‘I always wanted to be a nurse, but I’m not smart enough.’ I talked with her about the program,” Mollino said, “and about what we offer and how we work with people to complete the requirements in a way that fits their life, and she decided to give it a try. Now she’s working at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital. She’s changed her life, and the life of her daughter.”

The importance of building relationships is critical in the healthcare industry, and the staff at OCCC works to reinforce this with their students throughout the program.

“Physicians have so many patients to see every day, and sometimes have to travel to different clinics and hospitals.” Mollino said. “Over time, we are seeing the health care community overall developing a more holistic approach, but nursing has always had that. There are so many things that could be going on with patients, which we try to get our students to understand. We have to remember that people had lives before they came in, and will have lives after they leave. While they are with us, we need to use that understanding to best care for them.”


About OCCC

Oregon Coast Community College serves Lincoln County through centers in Waldport, Newport and Lincoln City.  The College offers two-year Associate Degrees and a variety of transfer degrees, as well as numerous less-than-one-year certificate programs. New for Fall 2018, the College will launch a new teaching degree program in partnership with Tillamook Bay Community College and Western Oregon University. In the Winter 2019 term, the College will launch new Early Childhood Education degrees and certificates.

Registration for credit courses in the Fall 2018 term is open now. To learn more about the College and its programs and services, peruse this website or call 541-867-8501.