“Describe for me how you’re feeling today,” says the tall young man dressed in blue scrubs as he makes notes on a clipboard while standing before a hospital bed and its occupant.
The patient lying on the bed, sounding tired and ill, responds in a gravelly voice: “I feel really bad and my gut hurts.”
The young man asks a few more questions before expertly and compassionately replacing a breathing tube in the patient’s throat.
Andrew Hann—dressed in blue scrubs—continues for the next few minutes taking his patient’s vital statistics, consults with a fellow nursing student, and is gently reminded about a procedure by his nursing supervisor.
At Alamance Community College, this is one way nursing students learn how to deal with real patients. Only in this environment, the patient Andrew has been talking to is a Sims Man robot, a computerized mannequin programmed to replicate symptoms and actually talk to the students in a realistic exercise.
Andrew Hann is attentive and calm as he goes through what he has learned in the nursing program. But it has taken a while to get here–now in his final semester and preparing for the completion of his degree. In fact, there was a time not long ago that Andrew thought he would never get to this point. Financial and family issues crowded his plate. But he has persevered as one of only four men in a nursing class of 22 students. He sees a bright future ahead. But the journey has been difficult.
Andrew initially enrolled at ACC to pursue a career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), which he completed in 2009. But he did not pursue that career after another well-paying job opportunity arose—automotive work at Arrowhead BP offered by the shop’s owner, a man he met at his church. Eleven years later Andrew still works there part-time, having moved from auto repair to office work.
Then one day his youth pastor pulled him aside and asked: “What are you doing with your life, Andrew?” He said he was thinking about becoming a nurse.
Andrew researched nursing programs, but it was what he heard from a friend employed at Alamance Regional Hospital that convinced him. She told him that area health facilities, including hospitals, regularly seek graduates from ACC. That decided it for Andrew and he returned to the college to seek his degree.
In 2013, Andrew needed to have 250-500 hours of CNA work experience to enter the nursing program. He took the first step and started working toward earning an Associate in Science degree and General Education degree at the college. He had to pick up where his course load left off a few years earlier during his pursuit of his CNA credential.
The years 2016 and 2017 were red-letter years: First, Andrew and Wendi had their first child, Paisley, and in spring 2017 he was accepted into ACC’s Nursing program. Things were looking up.
As Andrew began his nursing studies in August 2017, he continued working at the automotive shop, the couple had just bought a singlewide trailer, and Wendi was pregnant with their second child.
Then life intervened.
The couple’s stress level grew during Wendi’s pregnancy when an ultrasound during her ninth week revealed the fetus had a condition known as cystic hygroma — excess tissue that was growing on the fetus’s back and neck. This condition was paired with lymphedema, excess fluid in the lymphatic system. Wendi’s doctor said the tissue warned that the condition could overcome the fetus and fluid would infiltrate the heart and brain.
“We were told the fetus may not live past 28 weeks in the womb,” said Andrew. “They gave options, including abortion. But things began to change dramatically after our church family prayed for us. Eliyanah was born healthy at 36 weeks while I was in the middle of clinicals.”
The family had come through the crisis as Andrew now had two children under age one, continued working part-time, and taking his nursing classes.
“It was a very rough journey,” said Andrew.
Andrew entered his second semester, followed by the summer 2018 term, and academically was doing well. By the fall semester, however, the weight of his responsibilities started to pull him down.
“I felt maxed out with all the pressure of working, paying bills, studying, and supporting my family,” he said.
The stress caught up with him at mid-term of the fall 2018 semester. ACC’s Nursing program has two eight-week courses back to back in a full semester. Andrew missed the passing threshold by less than half a point at the end of the first eight-week course.
“It was terrible. I had failed the course. So I decided to step back, leave the nursing program and just concentrate on work to make sure our bills were getting paid,” he said.
The breather paid off. Andrew re-entered the Nursing program in early 2019, picking up where he left off, and ultimately passed the course he had previously failed. But financially things remained difficult.
“I was behind on bills. As a couple, we had previously agreed not to put our children into childcare. And Wendi was already making lots of sacrifices. We were so bad off that I can remember going into a store more than once when I didn’t have enough money to buy necessities.”
Then a helping hand entered the picture. Andrew learned of ACC’s Finish Line Grant, a program initiated by N.C. Governor Cooper. At the college, Brian Barringer served as program coordinator and met with Andrew.
“The college paid me one thousand dollars to help me get over this hump,” said Andrew. “What a difference that made. We were able to pay off our outstanding bills, including getting my car fixed which was my only mode of transportation. This allowed me to continue in school.”
Through peaks and valleys, Andrew has now made it to his fifth and final semester in 2020. He still works 20-25 hours per week at Arrowhead BP to keep his family going, and he expects to graduate later this spring.
Andrew and many other students may have to alter some of their immediate plan due to the coronavirus crisis, which has forced most students to complete their semester online this spring.
Back in February, he began the required clinicals in the ICU department at Duke University Hospital. Following that rotation, he was planning to continue his clinicals working in the cardiac department at Alamance Regional in Burlington. His first career goal is to work with cardiac patients as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
“It’s a lot easier to persevere through all the struggles with a made-up mind,” he said. “No matter what obstacles you face, if you have a decisive goal in mind, it’s easier to stay determined that you can make it.”