August 29, 2003

School of Nursing celebrates record high enrollment

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Nursing students including Yuki Fujimura, right, take part in new student orientation events on Monday. This year’s enrollment is higher than ever before. Dana Johnson

School of Nursing celebrates record high enrollment

Colleen Conway-Welch speaks during new student orientation for the School of Nursing. Dana Johnson

Colleen Conway-Welch speaks during new student orientation for the School of Nursing. Dana Johnson

From left,  Amanda Lowry, Erin McHenry and Heidi Shults spend time together at the student barbeque at Conway-Welch’s house Monday evening. Dana Johnson

From left, Amanda Lowry, Erin McHenry and Heidi Shults spend time together at the student barbeque at Conway-Welch’s house Monday evening. Dana Johnson

The School of Nursing greeted nearly 300 new faces for the first day of orientation on Monday, before classes began today, with a record high number of new students.

A total of 264 new students have enrolled at VUSN for the 2003-2004 academic year, compared to 243 last year. Linda Norman, DSN, senior associate dean for academics, said the three-semester “bridge,” or pre-specialty program, where students with a non-nursing background enter the program, is the area that is seeing the most growth. The enrollment in the pre-specialty area has increased from last year’s 124 new students to 148 this year.

“There has been more interest in the master’s program from potential pre-specialty students than we have ever seen before,” Norman said. “Most of the students have a degree in something else, although only six semesters is required, and are now looking at nursing as an attractive profession. They like that they can do this in a time efficient manner,” she added.

She said the increase in enrollment by students with no prior nursing experience is due, in part, to the general public becoming more aware of the multiple roles of advance practice nurses, campaign efforts like the Johnson&Johnson company’s quest to find more nurses, and countless other media reports about the nationwide nursing shortage.

The nursing school hired four new, part-time, clinical faculty members to meet the demands of a larger class this year.

“It’s not safe or fair to increase the student to faculty ratio. It would compromise the learning environment,” Norman said.

Despite adding faculty, Norman said 38 students on a waiting list, all interested in the pre-specialty, bridge program, cannot be accommodated by VUSN this fall.

“They were admitted, and met all of the necessary requirements, but we just do not have space for them,” Norman said. “Some of our specialty programs moved to a waiting list by Jan. 15, and all were full by the end of May,” she added.

Norman said the high numbers speak to the quality of the program and the graduates of VUSN.

Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of the School of Nursing, addressed the crowd of incoming students at orientation on Monday. She said the students make up an exciting and extremely well-prepared group.

“They are already sophisticated about the implications of the current and impending nursing shortage across all levels — as well as the extra need for Advanced Practice Nurses.  We welcome these serious and well-informed students,” she said.

Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for health affairs, and University Chancellor Gordon Gee, J.D., Ed.D., were also on hand to join Conway-Welch in welcoming the new students to Vanderbilt, as were the specialty program directors at VUSN.

Students and faculty took a break to enjoy a picnic outside, before getting back to the business of orientation. Later that night, Conway-Welch opened her home to students and faculty for a barbeque dinner, giving everyone the chance to meet each other before classes began.

The new VUSN students range in age from 20 to 62 and make-up a diverse group of Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, Caucasian, and other ethnicities. With the option of distance learning for many of the specialty programs, students have enrolled from as far away as South Dakota, Texas, Colorado and New Orleans and beyond.

The distance option brings students to campus three to four times a semester for a four day block of classroom work, while the remainder of the coursework is provided on a weekly cd-rom that can be viewed in the luxury of their homes.

Chris Steward, 51, will be among the crowd of unique, new nursing students on campus this fall. He has been practicing oral surgery and some general dentistry in Cave City, Ky., a small community about 90 miles north of Nashville, for the past 20 years. He said he plans to cut his practice back to three days a week to be able to complete the Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty, and that he made the decision to be able to better serve patients in his rural community.

“My practice profiles are different than when I started 20 years ago. I deal with more medically compromised people and I have a desire to learn more so I can be a better benefit and more competent for the patients I work with,” said Steward.

He said he chose the Vanderbilt School of Nursing because of the flexibility of the program and the reputation of the school.

“Their sterling reputation for excellence in healthcare education is the best in the nation — whether you want to be a nurse practitioner or physician or anything else,” Steward said. The “bridge” program also enticed Steward.

“It’s a unique program with the bridge option. They can accommodate people that are working or already have an occupation,” Steward added.

Vaughn Sinclair, Ph.D., associate professor of Nursing, a graduate of Vanderbilt and Peabody, will begin this school year with her daughter by her side.

Ginny Sinclair enrolled in VUSN’s Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Specialty Program, the same specialty her mother has been practicing and teaching for years. Ginny Sinclair completed her undergraduate studies at Duke and chose Vanderbilt for its unique Nursing program.

“I liked Vanderbilt the best because of the reputation of the program and the curriculum seemed well put together, and the two year bridge program was a big factor. I have no undergraduate nursing experience,” she said.

Vaughn Sinclair said she’s thrilled her daughter is choosing the same career path.

“Generally kids don’t want to follow in their Mom’s footsteps, but her natural gifts are as a therapist,” Sinclair said.

And she couldn’t be happier that her daughter will be at Vanderbilt. “I’m going to love seeing more of her.” Vaughn will have her daughter in one course, but not until her second year, so they both have some time to get used to the idea.

“I’ll have to get somebody else to grade her papers,” Vaughn said. Ginny added, “I’m curious to know what she’s like as a teacher.”

She hopes to work as a therapist in the outpatient setting once she has completed the program.

VUSN will offer other incoming students a new specialty option this year. The Clinical Management focus in the Health Systems Management Specialty will prepare Advanced Practice Nurses for unique clinical management positions in the hospital setting.

Norman said the new focus was created in conjunction with the Nurse Management group in the Medical Center. Also new to students will be courses in palliative and end of life care, as well as an acute care option for students in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner specialty. The acute care option was added to better meet the needs of the new Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.