Flathead Valley Community College is pleased to introduce our new nursing program director, Carla Genovese, MSN, who began leading the program in January 2021. Genovese joins FVCC after serving two decades in nursing education and critical care leadership roles. She started her career as an ICU nurse, then served as a critical care clinical educator and clinical education supervisor, and most recently, she was the director of critical care at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. Originally from Whitehall, Montana, Genovese earned her bachelor’s at Carroll College and her Master’s in Nursing Education from American Sentinel University.
As evidenced in our Q&A below, Genovese brings to her new role a passion for education and dedication to caregiving that was cultivated from a very young age.
FVCC: What’s the story behind your journey into the healthcare field?
Genovese: Well, my grandmother was a nurse, and my grandmother practiced at St. James Hospital in Butte. Later, she also did private-duty nursing and took care of patients in their homes. When I was little before I started school, I would spend my days with my grandma, and she would take me with her to people’s homes. I knew she was a nurse, but I never really understood what she did. I just knew she took care of people, and I thought that was really neat. She would bring me to their house and put me in the living room to read a book or do something while she did whatever it was she was doing. I always thought that it was so neat that she took care of people, and I wanted to take care of people too.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a nurse, and my grandmother was definitely my inspiration. She was very supportive of me when I was going to nursing school. She actually did my nursing pinning. Pinning is a big ceremony for nurses where they used to get a cap, and now they get a pin because we don’t wear caps anymore, thank goodness. My grandma lived until 2006. She was 93, and she really enjoyed hearing about how nurses function today and how roles have changed since she was a nurse practicing.
FVCC: And how did your passion for education begin?
Genovese: I was always interested in education. Even as a nurse, I would teach classes to my co-workers. I would see that they needed more education on something, and I would learn about it and put together a class and handouts for them. And they would come to my classes, which always amazed me.
Then in 2013, the hospital created a position for a critical care clinical educator. So I stepped away from total patient care and did that for about six and a half years. Basically my job was to educate other critical care nurses, which was a really fun and rewarding position.
FVCC: Why were you called to get into critical care?
Genovese: The patient ratio in ICU is one nurse to one or two patients, whereas on a regular floor, it’s one nurse to anywhere from five to eight patients. So our patients in critical care are very sick, very time consuming. But the nice thing about being a critical care nurse is you do all of your care for your patients. So it was great for somebody like me who really wanted to take care of patients. I want to do everything from giving them a bath and washing their hair to titrating critical life-saving medications. I wanted to do it all.
FVCC: So you were the director of critical care at Kalispell Regional Healthcare during the pandemic?
Genovese: I was and setting up the COVID unit was one of my duties.
We set up a 20-bed COVID unit in the hospital. We were fortunate that we had an empty unit that we weren’t using that we could convert into the COVID unit. That became my responsibility to oversee the setup of that unit, the staffing of it and make sure that everyone was following all the protocols.
It was probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever had in my career, but also rewarding knowing that we were able to provide that service for our community.
FVCC: What kind of lessons have you learned during COVID-19 that FVCC nursing students could learn from in the future?
Genovese: I definitely learned a lot about setting work-life boundaries and learning to accept that I don’t have to do everything by myself. I can rely on my team and get my team involved in big projects a lot sooner. I’ve learned that coming into this role that I can involve my team in almost everything we’re doing because number one they have more experience here than I do. And number two, it’s a team effort and lots of people think of things that I didn’t think of.
I also learned you have to take care of yourself. As caregivers we frequently forget about ourselves in our efforts to take care of other people. You really have to take some time and allow yourself to have some downtime and do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself, even if it’s just for a day so that you can go back and take care of others.
FVCC: What wisdom would you impart to either a student who’s interested in becoming a nurse or just starting their nursing education?
Genovese: What makes nursing such a great profession is that there are so many different options with one degree. You can get an associate’s degree here at FVCC and that allows you to go on and get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, even a doctorate in nursing. But there’s also so many different places you can work.
You can work at a hospital, a clinic, a school, a prison. There are so many different options. You can do med surg, pediatrics, critical care, the OR. So you really get the opportunity to find what you’re passionate about and find your niche without having to change degrees or go back to school.
FVCC: What hopes and dreams do you have for the nursing department? What are you really excited to dig into in this role?
Genovese: I’ve been telling people here at FVCC this is such a successful program and I can take no credit for it because I just got here. Our success rate for completion rates and Licensure Exam pass rates are really good, and I think that the word has gotten out that this is a really solid program to come to. My first hope definitely is to sustain it and keep it going in the excellent form that it’s in.
Because nurses are in such great demand, I would like to be able to expand our program and accept more applicants. Right now we have limited space on campus and then limited clinical sites where our students can get their clinical training. But that’s something that I would definitely like to contribute more to – the demand for nurses, not just in the valley but all across the state and nation.
FVCC: For those considering FVCC’s nursing program, what details about the program would you like to add?
Genovese: In addition to our A.S.N. program, we also offer a practical nursing program which is three total semesters. It’s one semester of prerequisites and two semesters in the nursing program. Nurses who get their practical nursing degree can work in clinics or long-term health care facilities. So it’s a good entry-level position. If people aren’t sure or maybe they don’t think that they can afford going to school to get their RN right now, this gets their foot in the door.
The RN program is five semesters. It’s one semester of prerequisites and then four in the program. And then we also offer a CNA class, a certified nursing assistant class, and that’s usually an eight-week class. Students take a certification exam from the state, and then they can work as certified nursing assistants. It’s really helpful to work as a CNA, either before people apply to nursing school or even while they’re in school because they really learn that hands-on patient care piece.
FVCC: What makes FVCC’s nursing program stand out among others?
Genovese: Because our programs are fairly small, our faculty are really invested in the success of the students. Students get a lot of one-on-one time with all of our instructors, whether it’s the faculty, lab instructors or clinical instructors. I think that’s why our program success rates are what they are, because our students really get a lot of attention.
FVCC: In conclusion, is there one moment of great success and celebration that you’ve had throughout your entire career that you’d like to share?
Genovese: There was one day I was sitting in a coffee shop and this guy came up to me. He asked me if my name was Carla. I said, yes, and he started crying. He said, “You took care of me when I had my open heart surgery. You were so nice to me. I was so scared, and you were so kind. I will never forget you.” It’s those kinds of moments that you realize you really do make a difference in people’s lives as a nurse, even if you don’t realize it at the time.