August 24, 2007

School of Nursing opens doors to largest class ever

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Incoming VUSN students enjoy a picnic during orientation. (photo by Neil Brake)

School of Nursing opens doors to largest class ever

VUSN Dean Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., talks to incoming Nursing students during the opening ceremony. (photo by Neil Brake)

VUSN Dean Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., talks to incoming Nursing students during the opening ceremony. (photo by Neil Brake)

VUSN students, including Josh Sloan and Priya Champaneria, line up for lunch in the newly remodeled Annex building. (photo by Neil Brake)

VUSN students, including Josh Sloan and Priya Champaneria, line up for lunch in the newly remodeled Annex building. (photo by Neil Brake)

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing welcomed its largest class in history this week for orientation activities and the start of the fall semester.

Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of VUSN, and Harry Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, greeted the 337 new students.

“You have made a smart choice to pursue nursing, and you have picked the right place to get the best education possible,” said Jacobson. “This school of nursing has been at the forefront of innovation and it has been remarkably successful in predicting changes in the profession and in professional education.”

“You never know where nursing can take you,” said Conway-Welch. “You are joining a wonderful institution dedicated to education, practice and research, and your future as advanced practice nurses is full of opportunity.”

The incoming class includes 126 non-nurses who are participating in VUSN's Bridge program to earn their M.S.N.; 174 students with B.S.N. degrees who are pursuing M.S.N. degrees; 22 registered nurses; and 15 post-master's students. The School awarded full tuition scholarships to Sangogbemi Ajamu of Nashville (Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Scholarship), Melanie Sims of Franklin, Ga., (Dean's Honor Scholarship) and Ellen McGinnis of Nashville (C.W. Kempkau Honor Scholarship). Each student has come to the school with different stories to tell and different goals in mind.

A few months ago, Vikki Curwen was training dolphins at Sea World in San Diego. This week, she officially became a nurse midwifery student.

Curwen knew she wanted to become a dolphin trainer from an early age. During her four years working with dolphins, she met several terminally ill children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and saw how nurturing interaction could make a difference.

She started to think about a career in nursing and was soon volunteering as a doula, assisting in child births at a local hospital in San Diego. She enjoyed the experience and needed an advanced practice degree to take her to the next level.

“As a trainer, I learned to think on my feet, have good judgment and know when I was in over my head,” said Curwen. “Obviously, working with people is much more complex, but I've got that nurturing instinct.”

New students Patrick Allen and Mary Hobeika are both pursuing their M.S.N. and M.B.A. in a dual degree program offered by the School of Nursing and the Owen Graduate School of Management.

Allen earned his baccalaureate from the University of Tennessee and has been working in a trauma step-down unit in a Knoxville hospital for two years. He was inspired by his floor manager, who ran an efficient department and was a tireless advocate for nurses. Working as a registered nurse, he had greater interaction with patients as well as with other departments. He noticed a number of little things that he felt could be improved.

“I realized that if I got some additional education, I could get involved in these issues and do some good as an administrator,” said Allen. “This program is one of the best, and I'm happy to be here.”

Allen plans on using his dual degree to become a hospital administrator or to focus on the growing issue of human capital in the health care formula. He believes issues with nurse staffing will be an important issue over the course of his career.

Hobeika is a wife, mother of two young children and an intensive care unit nurse. She earned her baccalaureate in 1995 and has been a registered nurse for 12 years, most recently at The Vanderbilt Clinic. Like Allen, she too thinks the combination of clinical and business education will help her make a difference in health care.

“I went into nursing because I thought it was the best way to make an impact on more people,” said Hobeika. “Now I want to take that holistic approach and combine it with a business education so I can be a part of fixing some of the things that are not working in health care.”

She is committed to focusing on the human component of health care and dealing with accessibility and cost issues associated with providing quality care to those in greatest need. She hopes to become a hospital administrator and, perhaps one day, a chief nursing officer.

Overall, roughly 25 percent of new and continuing students this semester are Vanderbilt Medical Center employees, underscoring the deep level of integration between the School and Medical Center. Brenda Reed is just one example of a Vanderbilt nurse who is furthering her education at VUSN.

Reed is a case manager in the hospital's trauma unit and a new student in the health system management online program. She started at Vanderbilt as a care partner in 1998 and when she graduated from Tennessee State University in 1999, worked as a trauma nurse. She has been back in trauma in her current position since 2003. In her role, she regularly attends administrative meetings and realized that an advanced practice degree in nursing would help her offer more in those meetings.

“I have found my niche in trauma,” Reed said. “Being a nurse and a case manager, I have hands-on experience and bring about a different perspective on patient care.”

Reed is taking advantage of the nursing tuition reimbursement benefit that significantly reduces her tuition costs. She will maintain a full work load in addition to being a wife and mother.

“I'm a good multitasker,” she said. “I can do it.”