LEWISTON — Bonnie Colby spent more than two decades at Central Maine Medical Center in a unit with sick, scared patients — people with chest pain, heart failure, atrial fibrillation — and talks about loving the work. Now, she brings her students to the very same unit to learn on the job.

She graduated from then-Central Maine Medical Center School of Nursing 29 years ago, a year behind her twin sister, before diving into hospital work. She’s taught at the Maine College of Health Professions in Lewiston for the past nine years.

She has a reputation as a tough clinical instructor, and that’s OK. She’ll take it.

“I hear it from the students, I hear it from the other faculty,” said Colby, 57, who’s also a senior coordinator at the college. “It’s important for me to hold high expectations. I’m very proud of the nursing profession and I expect my students to carry on the same pride. If you hold the bar a little higher, they’ll reach for it.”

Colby was in her 20s, raising a family in Lewiston working odds and ends of jobs — packing apples, selling Tupperware, waitressing — when a neighbor who worked at a local nursing home talked about her own job as a certified nursing assistant.

That started Colby on the nursing path.

After graduating from the college in 1987, she found a job at CMMC in the cardiopulmonary unit.

“It’s a very fast-paced unit, a lot of admissions and discharges, big turnover,” Colby said. “You’ve got to thrive on it. You love it or you hate it.”

She prepped patients for procedures, dispensed medication, educated them about their conditions — the things she’s teaching now.

“For some students, it’s the first time they’ve ever touched someone,” she said.

The profession has changed since Colby started, as has the nursing school: It’s now the Maine College of Health Professions, celebrating its 125th year.

Hers was the last graduating class required to wear little white nursing caps. Her daily uniform was a blue dress and white nylons; today’s uniforms more closely resemble blue and white scrubs.

Simulation mannequins are used in training today, and “you can make him talk. You can listen to his heart, listen to his lungs,” Colby said.

When she was a student, “they just would have laid there, they wouldn’t have said boo,” she said, laughing.

The latest class of nurses graduated Saturday. She’ll spend the next few weeks getting lessons ready for fall and rejoin the cardiopulmonary nursing staff for a short while “to try to keep my skills up to date,” Colby said. “I like just being part of the team up there.”

She likes being part of both worlds.

“I really enjoy teaching and I have a lot of pride in this program and in this school,” Colby said. “You struggle sometimes if you’re pushing them too hard or not pushing them enough. When they come back after and say, ‘Thank you, you really prepared me,’ I think that’s the highlight of teaching.”

Know someone everyone knows? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

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