Long before she began her studies to become a licenced practical nurse, Rashpal Bains had a full decade to familiarize herself with the inner working of a hospital ward.
As a nursing unit clerk, she worked in the health care profession for 10 years at UHNBC. While that didn't exactly prepare her for the long hours and stressful demands of the past 49 weeks as a student in the College of New Caledonia's licenced practical nursing program, her work experience taught her well what works best to help patients heal.
So it was no surprise at Friday's convocation ceremony when Bains was picked over her 24 classmates as winner of the bedside caring award.
"I always knew nursing was something I wanted to do and this has been an amazing program, I enjoyed every bit of the clinical experience I had," said Bains, who turned 38 on Saturday. "It's an intense program for the students but at the same time the instructors put as much effort into this program, and I think that's why the students do so well. We are fully prepared for our jobs."
Each student completed a three-month practicum, filling nursing positions at Northern Heath facilities in Vanderhoof, Burns Lake and Prince Rupert.
The Christmas season was no holiday for Kate Goshorn, the class valedictorian.
"It was around the halfway mark and we were getting burnt out, doing clinicals, and self-evaluations, which are pages upon pages of essays," said Goshorn, 26 a native of Kamloops.
"You go home and you have to practice a lot of skills on your own, because the classes are so fast, so you practice on anybody you can outside of the classroom. The only people who know what you're going through are your fellow classmates and without their support and the nurses, none of us would have made it. It was overwhelming, and at times you didn't think you would make it through, but it was the best thing I've ever done."
Graduate Kara Mortenson, a native of Fort St. James, got the convocation started with her spot-on rendition of the national anthem. Kristen Morey was chosen for the CNC dean's leadership award, while Amy Smith captured the award for excellence for academic consistency, a result of her class-leading 4.11 grade point average.
The only hurdle left for the Class of 2012 is the licencing exam on Sept. 12. Emmanuel Bankole, the lone male among 24 females who accepted their certificates Friday from CNC president John Bowman, knows he's got two weeks of studying ahead of him before he can say he's done.
"It was a tough year and I had to work really hard and I'm just happy I made it, I'm proud of myself,' said Bankole, 23, a native of Nigeria who transferred to CNC from Camosun College in Kamloops for the third and final semester.
"It was a bit scary at first but it doesn't feel like I'm the only guy. All my classmates made me feel really comfortable. Sometimes I got picked on, but everybody was really friendly. This is a good start for me. There will maybe be opportunities to advance and I'll think about that in the coming years."
This is the 11th graduating class of LPNs since CNC introduced the program and it will be the last in the one-year format. The program has been increased to two years to reflect the new provincial curriculum and requirements of the Canadian Practical Nurse Registration exam. The next crop of students beginning school this week won't graduate until April 2014.
"We're going from a 49-week program to about 20 months -- it's added about 450 hours to meet the needs of the increasing scope and competency-based practice of the nursing profession and bring all things together in a more organized fashion," said Jacquie Scobie, CNC's practical nursing program lead.
"We've been very successful [in placing graduated students into paid positions] and I think we'll still have the same success, we'll just take 20 months to get there instead of 12."