Program director's tough veneer doesn't mask care, concern for students

Published on: April 7, 2022
Warren Crow portrait
Warren Crow’s goal is to make his health care students the absolute best they can be.

Warren Crow understands many students think he's a surly, gruff, perhaps even mean disciplinarian in the classroom. That's what he wants them to think, even though he's actually a big ol' teddy bear.

As the program director for health careers and the nursing assistant training program at Guilford Technical Community College, it is his job to make sure the college turns out the best graduates possible. He figures that's no job for a teddy bear.

"I've had students come back and say we thought you were a tough, tough person, but now I know you had our interest at heart," Crow said. "You have to instill that sense of regimentation because people's lives are in your hands. I add a huge level of academic rigor to our program, because I want that student to move forward and be attuned to the rigors of the job.

"We're not only changing their skills but trying to build the intangible skills. It is a level of understanding the work in health care is rigorous. You can't roll over and hit the snooze button. Doing that means six patients don't get the care they need. We teach good workforce habits as well."

The 63-year-old Crow understands what it takes to be a skilled health care worker. He has been a nurse for 44 years, and many more of those years were spent at the bedside rather than in the classroom.

Crow says he spent 34 or 35 years on the frontline taking care of patients. Many of those years were spent in pediatric intensive care units after beginning his career as an EMT paramedic and working in emergency departments. He was in a management position for quite a few of these years but always maintained a schedule as a bedside nurse.

"It has been a wonderful profession. I've had such a great opportunity to work in so many great areas and with so many great people," Crow said. He's a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, with degrees in chemistry and nursing.

"Between nursing and education, in the morning I pray to 'let me touch somebody today' and on the way home I say, ‘I hope I did.'"

Crow came to GTCC as an adjunct instructor 13 years ago, while maintaining a full-time job. In 2019 he was named the program director, a post he's held ever since. "It's been a nice migration," he says of his career track.

Does he miss the personal interaction with patients? "Sure, I miss it. That's my passion."

He gets smatterings of real-time nursing, enough to soothe his passion and keep his nurse-to-patients skills in tune when he makes clinical rounds with his students.

"It gives me the opportunity to be back at the bedside but not at the acuity level I used to be."

And although he may miss the pace and interaction of full-time nursing, he understands his job as an educator is equally as noble and important.

"I'm always cautious about telling too many war stories (from his days and nights on the unit). It's more about helping through my experience, to help them learn how to put the puzzle together," Crow said. "The important part about being an educator is making sure you have provided the opportunity for students to enjoy as much as you have, but at the same time, impact the profession.

"It's the opportunity to help direct and help students problem solve. Being in this role of an educator affords me the chance to have client interaction and shepherd students through the process at the same time."

The program Crow oversees at GTCC is a large one. There are four full-time faculty members and 32 adjunct faculty members spread over the three GTCC campuses.

"We are teaching 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in four-hour blocks, Monday through Thursday," he said.

Last year more than 800 students graduated from the program. The nursing assistant training program has a 92 percent passing rate, compared to a state average of 88. State tests show GTCC nursing graduates average 88 percent in skills testing while the state average is in the low 70s according to Crow.

"We are excited by what we are teaching, not only that they can go into the work force, but the fact that we are getting calls. We're getting calls not because employers are desperate to fill jobs but because they know the quality of our students."

The past two years have been challenging for Crow, his staff, and students. Like all program leaders at GTCC, he was forced to figure a way to continue instruction during the pandemic, a way to avoid personal contact as much as possible to keep everyone safe from the virus. But for Crow, it went deeper than the classroom. His graduates were going to become medical workers, many on the front lines, facing those infected with COVID-19 on a daily basis.

"One of the things about health care to remember, there are always going to be challenges and opportunities to change how we approach things," Crow said. "I was on the scene when HIV Aids came; this is not the first time we have been faced with this type of challenge.

"It is how creative you can be to provide the best educational opportunity in the challenge."

GTCC's overall response to the pandemic and the response of his staff and students are a special point of pride to Crow.

"It has been a time fraught with opportunity to improve the way we teach, recognizing there are other modalities. It has been a creative time," Crow said. "I'm fortunate to work with a group of full-time and part-time faculty that are amazing. It's like being on a sailboat and the sails are full of ideas. It's wonderful to be surrounded by people like this.

"It really has been very much an exciting time. The college never closed even though we weren't physically meeting. It was all about how we transitioned quickly. We had to figure how to keep education moving forward, especially when health care needed more workers."

Crow knows the students he faces every day are all different, all come from diverse backgrounds, all looking to improve their lives. That's where the big heart hiding in the gruff exterior comes in.

"I work with students who have been marginalized by whatever, who have been told by friends and peers they wouldn't amount to anything," Crow said. "They've had educators who weren't supportive or challenging them to be the best they can be, or they have learning issues.

"There's a poem; it talks about the hallways of hope. That's what I see this college as. We are providing the opportunity, the chance, to go as far as you want to go or to get you back in the workforce. Hope is a powerful word. I can't keep hope burning, but I can provide the fire."


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