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Sakakawea Medical Center: Innovation in Training

Caring for the community is a long-standing tradition at Sakakawea Medical Center (SMC). Founded more than 68 years ago, they strive to care for all by offering health, healing and a better quality of life. SMC is a critical access hospital, licensed for 13 beds, and a 34-bed licensed basic care facility. SMC serves the communities, residents and visitors of Dunn, Mercer and Oliver Counties, and is in the heart of rural Mercer County and housed in the City of Hazen.

This article was originally published by Workforce Matters June 2017 and can be viewed here or on ND Center of Nursing's website here.

Because SMC is a rural facility, there is not a large pool of nurses available for hiring, forcing SMC to think outside the box when a position opens. It was necessary to transform the traditional hiring method and move toward growing their own nurses. Common themes heard when talking to Nurse Assistants included, “I want to be a nurse; but, I cannot drive to take classes; I need to be home to care for my kids; and if only there was a way I could work and take classes.” The staff knew these themes could not be unique to SMC. A collaboration was made with local healthcare entities in Mercer County including Knife River Care Center (KRCC), Coal Country Community Health Center (CCCHC) and SMC to pursue the possibility of launching a satellite nursing program in Hazen under the direction of Bismarck State College (BSC).

In 2012, a practical nursing program was approved and established in Hazen. A current SMC nurse was transitioned to teach with shared expense among the three healthcare facilities and BSC. This instructor taught the clinical portion of nursing education and the theory aspect would come from Interactive Television capabilities. Six students enrolled in the inaugural year. These students completed most of their clinical requirements locally, allowing them to be partially trained on the facilities electronic medical record, policies and procedures. This was a huge advantage to hiring directly from this program. Since the inception, 21 nurses have received their associate degree in practical nursing and most of these nurses are working in the community. The program has allowed local individuals to achieve a personal career goal through non-traditional means and eliminated the need for them to travel away from home. Leveraging innovative educational models and technology has afforded KRCC, CCCHC and SMC the ability to overcome rural challenges through transformational change.

To foster a familiar environment for students, SMC dedicated a classroom and skills lab designed to replicate a patient room.. The goal is to teach skills necessary to provide quality care while building a workforce at home, giving those that have a dream of being a nurse an opportunity to succeed locally.

For more information, visit or hear testimony from those going through the program.