August 26, 2010

Back to school 2010: VUSN students begin educational journey

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Judy Sweeney, M.S.N., R.N., welcomes non-nurses pursuing their master’s degrees at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing last week. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Back to school 2010: VUSN students begin educational journey

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing is welcoming 422 students this year pursuing graduate- or doctoral-level nursing degrees.

The incoming class of master's students beginning this week includes 213 students with associate's or bachelor's degrees who are pursuing their M.S.N. degrees and 140 new non-nurses who are participating in VUSN's bridge program by taking a year of pre-specialty classes before beginning their formal master's education.

Fifty new doctoral-level students will begin the last week of August.

“Every year the grade point averages go up, the entrance exam scores go up — we really have the best and brightest students in each of our programs,” said Linda Norman, D.S.N., R.N., senior associate dean for Academics. “We also have a lot of geographic, academic and cultural diversity that creates a rich learning environment.”

Nathan Guerette, who is entering VUSN as a non-nurse in the Family Nurse Practitioner/Nurse Midwifery Program, is a good example of just that.

Guerette entered Elon University to study exercise science, thinking he wanted to pursue a career in athletic training with professional sports teams. While researching advanced practice nursing along the way, he liked its holistic and family-centered approach.

The tipping point was studying abroad on a team helping with maternal health in a remote village in the Guatemala highlands known for its high infant mortality rates.

He and his classmates watched and helped the community health nurse educate the indigenous population, give vaccinations and distribute nutritious baby food.

“We would hop in the back of a pickup truck and ride along rough terrain, like right out of an Indiana Jones movie, and stop at these little huts to visit moms and babies,” said Guerette.

“One time we saw a newborn who was naked and wrapped in wet towels. We clothed the baby, and the nurse taught the mother about keeping the baby warm and dry. If we hadn't intervened, the baby likely would have died of hypothermia."

Guerette always had a special interest in babies and was thinking about pursuing pediatrics, but as he enters VUSN, he decided that a dual specialty in family health care and nurse midwifery is a good combination.

Like Guerette, Jillian Phipps brings her own perspective to VUSN.
Phipps is a pediatric nurse at Walt Disney Pavilion at Florida Hospital for Children, who graduated a year ago from the University of Florida. She was born with a congenital heart defect that resulted in open surgery to fix a hole in her heart just weeks after her high school graduation.

It was being a patient that helped her focus her own career path.

“I wanted to be a doctor, but it was the nurses who cared for me that helped me change my mind,” said Phipps. “I saw how they were able to invest more personally in my care and that's what I want to do for others, especially kids.

“My condition wasn't life-threatening, but I've gotten to meet and work with kids waiting for heart transplants and that's where my interest is,” she added.

Like roughly half of current VUSN students, Phipps will be a distance-learning student, someone who does a majority of her classroom learning via online classes and visits to campus for intense block learning sessions a few times each semester.

As part of the new academic year, VUSN awarded full tuition scholarships to Yetunde Ogunnaike (Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Scholarship), Lisa Perkins (Dean's Honor Scholarship) and Carolyn Enders (C.W. Kempkau Honor Scholarship).