On the second floor of the new nursing building at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is Eagle General Hospital, the greatest hospital that has never seen a patient. In this building Roger Collins, M.S.P.H., has taught full- and part-time for 40 years.
Collins, who plans to retire – more or less – at the end of 2023, can be found most days in this simulated hospital environment where he instructs nursing students. On a Friday afternoon in October, he is sitting on a wheeled chair instructing Vivian Taylor, a student in the accelerated nursing program, in the finer points of inserting a nasogastric tube into a female patient’s stomach via her right nostril.
Taylor picks up a stethoscope. “Put alcohol on it,” Collins says. Taylor does and proceeds to explain the procedure to the patient.
To be clear, the ‘patient’ is a $10,000 - $14,000 mannikin, one of six in the ward. Though sophisticated in detail, these mannikins are more basic than their $75,000 counterparts down the hall that can talk, display dropping blood pressure when hooked up to a monitor or even give simulated birth to a plastic baby.
As Taylor asks questions, Collins stands in for the patient.
“Are you in pain?” Taylor asks.
“She has no pain but is tired of the gastric distress and all the vomiting,” Collins says.
“Do you have any allergies?” Tayor asks.
“She doesn’t have any allergies,” Collins says.
Collins, 67, has been teaching so long that some of his students have retired. Others have gone on to such positions as the president of the American Nurses Association and associate professor in nursing at UNC–Greensboro.
His interest in nursing started while he was growing up in Kinston, North Carolina. “I had weird parents,” he said. “As soon as I turned 16, they felt I needed a job to support myself.”
So Collins found work at Lenoir Memorial Hospital as a nursing assistant. After graduating high school, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where in 1978 he earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. It wasn’t easy.
“Nursing school is a butt kicker,” Collins said. “I had a 3.75 grade point average in high school. In my first semester for nursing school, I made four C’s. Nothing but As and Bs before that. I thought because I was a good nursing assistant, this would serve as an excellent springboard. A nursing assistant does as told. A nurse has to continually assess the patient’s situation and make decisions regarding proper care alternatives.”
He worked as both a medical-surgical nurse and intensive care unit nurse at UNC–Chapel Hill for the next few years before returning to school in 1981, this time for a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in health administration. His plan was to go into the management end of health.
In 1983, Collins heard about an opening at NCCU for a part-time nursing instructor. He applied, was hired and four months later was promoted to full-time.
In 1990 he became a teaching nurse at Durham Regional Hospital (now part of the Duke Health System), but continued teaching part time at NCCU. In 2012, he left Duke System Durham Regional Hospital and returned to being a fulltime nursing instructor at NCCU.
Eagle General Hospital varies little from a genuine hospital. Both Collins and the nursing students wear maroon or gray scrubs.
Oxygen and suction devices may be found near the hospital beds, each of which holds a ‘patient.’ To differentiate, Collins has named the mannikins after celebrities: Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Denzel Washington, Taraji Henson, Halle Berry and Angela Bassett.
Doors along the hallways have plaques with titles like Observation, Pediatric Outpatient Clinic, Maternal/Child Health Training and Intensive Care Unit.
There are long hours – it is now 3 p.m. and Taylor and two other students have been in the ward since 9 a.m.
The instruction is detailed and covers not only medical procedures but the nonmedical nuances.
“You’ll have a bad back like your instructor if you don’t raise that hospital bed,” Collins says. Taylor laughs and does so.
Its all about empathy
Over the decades, Collins has seen changes in nursing. Computers have become more important. When applying for nursing jobs, grades have become more important and face-to-face interviews less so.
What hasn’t changed is the continuing need for nurses who are not only skilled and knowledgeable in medicine but also able to empathize with patients. “Therapeutic touch, therapeutic speech,” Collins says. “Empathy. The desire to care for someone. That doesn’t get pushed like it used to.”
Referencing a TV commercial, he pulls out a credit card and holds it up. “You have to flash your ability to care for folks like a person flashes their credit card at stores.”
From the instructor, there also has to be empathy toward the nursing students. According to student Naa Adei Sanniez, Collins has it.
“He really cares about his students,” Sanniez says. “He’ll give us feedback on weaknesses and what I need to work on.”
“He spends more time than he has to,” Taylor says. “Overtime, to make sure we pass the validation. He’s constantly preaching that we have to be patient advocates, speak for them and make sure they get what they need.”
In December, Collins will retire for six months, then return part time as an instructor in both the departments of nursing and department of public health education.
In the meanwhile, he is developing a “righteous bucketlist” of recreational activities including golf and fishing.
Collins is also a gardening enthusiast, an interest he picked up in a work-study position in horticulture while at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has designed and maintained seven flower beds at his house and brought 20 plants to the new nursing building.
“I like watching things grow,” he explains. “And students grow.”