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VUSN Reunion showcases strong bond among classmates

Dec. 3, 2015, 8:50 AM

School of Nursing Dean Linda Norman, DSN, R.N., and Mary Lambert, DNP ‘11, at this year’s VUSN Reunion. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Reunion 2015 was a time to celebrate Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s (VUSN) past, present and future. Founded in 1908, VUSN has more than 9,200 nursing alumni living and working in all 50 states and several countries. Each year, Reunion is a chance for alums to reconnect with classmates and VUSN faculty, and to learn.

“We enjoy welcoming all nursing alumni back in the fall and throughout the year. This is the place where intellectually curious, hardworking students come to push themselves further, knowing that they will use that knowledge to impact health care delivery in meaningful ways,” said Linda Norman, DSN, R.N., Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing and VUSN Dean.

Like a Vanderbilt education, the bond among classmates lasts a lifetime. An example is the Class of 1965, who came back to campus this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary of graduation.

These students were earning their BSNs while the society around them was changing with news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins and the Cold War buildup.

Typical school life meant 15-hour days of classes and clinical courses. The classmates bonded with one another and emulated strong role models such as Professor Emerita Lou Donaldson. Many of the graduates went to work at Vanderbilt University Hospital (VUH) making $375 a month, and some worked at the Metro Health Department, which paid better at $650 monthly. All felt that their VUSN education gave them a springboard for their careers and for life.

Carol Hudson remembers reporting for her first day of work on the OB-GYN floor of VUH. “They said ‘you are in charge because you have the most education.’”

Charlene Smith recalls working in the Lawrence County hospital that first year after graduation when a pregnant woman came to the hospital to deliver. “The doctor was called. The train went through the middle of town and the doctor was on the other side of the tracks. So I delivered the baby!”

Newly graduated and newly married Barbara Dorman and her husband, John, arrived at their new home town of Plainview, Texas, just hours before a tornado struck. “John and I went to the hospital at 4 in the morning and I was the only RN. You talk about learning to triage real quick!”

For the 1965 graduates, the weekend was spent discussing VUSN as the launching point of the rest of their lives. The group has stayed in touch these last 50 years, so much so that 17 of the 31 graduating members of the class returned to this year’s Reunion.

Though their education occurred many decades apart, the 2010 Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) graduates felt a similar career preparedness and classmate camaraderie as their predecessors.

Also on hand for this year’s VUSN Reunion were, from left, Leslie Peck, MSN ’05, Brandi Jo Lambert, MSN ’05, DNP ’13, Sheree Allen, MSN ’03, and Ann Crim, MSN ’05. (photo by Susan Urmy)

In 2008, the School of Nursing launched its Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) DNP program. There were 31 students who earned the DNP in the two-year full-time program. Today, the program has 168 students enrolled, including those who are combining their DNP studies with a post-master’s certificate. To commemorate the fifth anniversary of graduating from the program, many DNP alumni came back to campus this year.

Melissa Willmarth-Stec, DNP, APRN, CNM, was in that first group of DNP students and served as a volunteer for their fifth Reunion, the first for the program. She graduated from the school’s Nurse-Midwifery program in 2005 and was attracted to the Vanderbilt DNP because she knew it would align with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing standards.

“With the changing environment in health care, I knew that having a doctoral degree would be important in academia and in a clinical setting,” said Willmarth-Stec, associate professor and director of the DNP Program at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing. “The DNP has made a huge impact. I learned the process of evidence-based practice and quality improvement. Those are skills that I use every day in teaching and in practice.”

As a Reunion 2015 volunteer, Willmarth-Stec played an important role by encouraging that inaugural DNP class, as well as her MSN Class of 2005, to give back to the School of Nursing and to return to campus to meet face to face, though most still stay in touch by phone and email.

“Our class was really close and we all believed in the concept of cohort, experiential learning,” said Willmarth-Stec. “The hybrid nature of the Vanderbilt program really instilled in us a concept of living and studying and doing life together in the program. We stay in close contact — sometimes because we turn to one of our classmates who may be an expert in the field and other times to line up one of our classmates with someone else in our professional lives.”

And even at a time of remembrances and social gatherings, VUSN provided educational content in the form of a CEU seminar about a trending topic in the world of health care — health coaching.

More than 100 alumni, friends and Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurses attended the three-hour health coaching seminar taught by Ruth Wolever, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt Health Coaching, Education, Research and Practice; Blair Morris, R.N., ANP-BC, clinical leader of Vanderbilt Health Coaching; and Linda Manning, Ph.D., assistant director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

The session centered on how health coaching may improve the health of those with chronic diseases, which account for 70 percent of health care expenditures and are largely preventable conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, dia-betes, obesity and cancer. The presenters explained that there is a pressing need to manage burgeoning chronic disease by the emergence of health coaches.

All in all, the weekend attracted and highlighted the best in nursing education and in the network of nurses known as VUSN alumni. Willmarth-Stec was one of 27 Reunion volunteers who asked their classmates to come back to campus and give back to the School of Nursing. Thanks to their personal touch, the weekend had a record attendance and VUSN alumni surpassed the $100,000 fundraising goal, a majority of which will go to support the School of Nursing Annual Fund and the VUSN Alumni Scholarship. Additional Reunion gifts can be made through Dec. 31.

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