August 28, 1998

Incoming Nursing students set to tackle challenges

Incoming Nursing students set to tackle challenges

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Patricia Cooper is one of 225 new VUSN students. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

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The School of Nursing's innovative programs will allow Gary Grover to continue working in Memphis while he pursues his degree. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

Patricia Cooper realized a couple of years ago that something was missing from her career as a nursing home administrator. Mounting paperwork meant dwindling time to interact with patients.

It was then she realized she was a people-person, one who desperately needed a change.

Today, armed with a bachelor's degree in nursing and a master's degree in health administration, Cooper is one of 225 new Vanderbilt University School of Nursing students. She is a direct entry student, entering the Gerontology Nurse Practitioner program. Direct-entry students are those who already have a bachelor of science in nursing degree, but enter VUSN to earn their master of science in Nursing degree. They normally study for three full-time semesters.

Cooper, who has been in nursing home administration in four states since 1981, and her husband operate a small Memphis consulting agency, Retirement Services Inc. The company helps nursing homes that have scored poorly on federal surveys make compliance and financial turnarounds.

The mother of a 24-year-old son, Cooper hopes to combine the business with her nurse practitioner degree when she completes the program. She hopes to practice "like a country doctor," making house calls.

Coming to Vanderbilt is a dream come true for her.

"It just shows that God opens doors," Cooper said. "I never dreamed that such an opportunity would be possible for me. It's beyond any dream I ever had. It's a spiritual need of mine to do something like this, to work with the elderly."

While Cooper is obtaining her degree, she is both living and working at McKendree Village Retirement Community, learning more about working closely with the elderly.

Cooper said she is impressed by VUSN's reputation and the age range of the students.

"Bringing both young people and those of us who are older together in a clinical setting is great. Younger students can learn from my life experience and I need to be with younger people," she said.

"You hear that the students are respected as adults and as professionals. The school has an excellent reputation," she said. "I feel certain I can get enough hands-on clinical experience to be a superior geriatric nurse practitioner. I don't want to do anything if I can't be the best I can be."

The new nursing school class — 13 percent of whom are male — comes from 36 different states. About 47 percent of the class were residents of Tennessee at the time they applied. Sixty percent of the class lives in the Southeast. Its members include a husband and wife — Joan and Larry Lanier, two students who recently graduated from the Air Force Academy and Lori Smith, the 1994 Miss Tennessee.

One student, Julia Bryan, is a direct entry student into the Family Nurse Practitioner program.

Bryan's tuition is being fully funded by Maury County Hospital under the "special nurse" arrangement in which a hospital pays for the tuition of one of its employees. A number of VUSN alumni are employed at the Columbia hospital.

The largest number of students this year — 128 — are bridge students. VUSN is one of the few schools in the nation offering a pathway in which non-R.N., bachelor's degree students who have other majors may take an accelerated set of courses and "bridge" into the master's in Nursing program of study. They also can receive a master's degree in nursing in two years. The bridge students may already be practicing registered nurses, but their degrees are either associate degrees or have been earned through a hospital diploma program.

Of the total number of students, the largest block, 43, are enrolled in the Family Nurse Practitioner track, followed by 34 students in two tracks: Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and Women's Health Nurse Practitioner.

One of the new bridge students, Gary Grover, of Memphis, is in the Occupational Health/Adult Care Nurse Practitioner track. He has been both a respiratory therapist and a registered nurse and administrator in correctional facilities in Missouri and Tennessee. His most recent assignment has been at the Federal Correctional Institution in Memphis, serving in both clinical work and administration.

"I want to be a nurse practitioner. That's why I'm here," Grover said. "I'm a pretty good administrator, but a better clinician. That's where my real talents lie. Good caregivers are at a premium right now."

Through the innovative bridge curriculum offered to associate degree and diploma nurses, Grover will remain in Memphis, working full time at FCI. He will travel to Nashville for classes three-to-four times each semester for four days of concentrated classes and do some of his class work over the Internet and through videos. He will be able to have his clinical experiences in Memphis with a preceptor who will be in close communication with VUSN faculty.

Grover said he made the decision to apply to Vanderbilt fairly recently, after a VUSN alumnus encouraged him to apply.

"I guess it's meant to be. I never dreamed three months ago that I'd be here at Vanderbilt."

This innovative option for R.N.s to complete the bridge component in their home location is very cost efficient. The students do not have to relocate for the first year of their education and can maintain their employment. They will have to be full-time students in Nashville for the second year for most majors, but the time away is decreased from two years to one by the new alternative.

The Health Systems Management M.S.N. major is being offered this year in the concentrated class format. For R.N.s who have A.D.N.s and choose the H.S.M. major, they will be able to complete the entire six-semester (two-year) course of study without relocation.