A new tradition will begin at Hiram on May 14, as the College graduates its first nursing students.
The seniors will be the first in Hiram’s history to receive a degree other than a Bachelor of the Arts, as they will collect a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
The program was a change for Hiram when it was approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2006, and it came about only after months of discussion over whether it fit into the college’s liberal arts curriculum.
Davina Gosnell, Director of Nursing
“It meant a major change for Hiram,” said Davina Gosnell, director of the nursing program. “It meant not the first professional program [for the College] because they’ve had teaching, accounting and marketing. But for many people, they saw it as a tremendously different departure from the liberal arts focus at Hiram, and there was legitimate concern in relation to that.”
Gosnell, the dean emerita of Kent State University’s College of Nursing, came out of retirement in August 2006 to put plans for Hiram’s nursing program in motion. That meant drafting a curriculum, seeking approval from the Ohio Board of Nursing to operate a nursing program and getting the okay from the Ohio Board of Regents to offer a new degree. Once that was complete, the first class was accepted for the Fall 2007 semester.
Now, the program’s first graduates say their nursing education in a liberal arts environment has given them the whole package, particularly emphasizing the importance of ethics in nursing.
“Nursing is one ethical dilemma after another,” said senior Caitlyn Ruese. “Going to a liberal arts school with a focus on ethics got me thinking about my own ethical dilemmas, and helped me be a better nurse.”
In four years the program has a lot to be proud of. This past October, the department received full accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and expects to be granted full approval from the Ohio Board of Nursing at its meeting on May 19.
And Gosnell is proud of the students, too, because they’ve taken on the responsibility of establishing a good name for the program, as they completed clinicals and practicum at area hospitals.
“We had to set the bar and set the bar high – be professional and poised,” said senior Katie Oslin. “We reflect what the program is.”
Senior Amanda Braham said the class embraced that responsibility.
“Right now, we are the face of Hiram nursing,” she said. “In other schools, there are more classes of students, but what we run into is whenever we go into a new clinical setting, we are the only faces they’ve ever seen for Hiram. So we make that lasting impression on what other hospital systems think of this program, and word gets spread, and hopefully it’s for the better.”
The Class of 2011 has also created many opportunities within the College for Hiram’s nursing students to come.
Members of the senior class started the Student Nurse Association.
Senior Javonne Woodland was a driving force behind creating the Student Nurse Association, a group promoting the support and interaction of nursing students, during her freshman year. She wrote the group’s constitution, invited classmates and served as the first president.
“We needed something to bring us all together because the next year, I knew we were going to have more nursing students coming in, and I wanted us to have something that we could share in common and give us a way to communicate with each other,” Woodland said.
Woodland and senior Luke Lewis were among students who went on the College’s first study abroad trip to Zambia.
Hiram’s first study abroad trip to Zambia included many nursing majors, some from the graduating senior class.
There, they experienced first-hand what health care is like in a third world country. Lewis said when a man with a crocodile bite came in to a clinic they were visiting, the resources at the facility were so few that the doctor stabilized the man’s broken arm with a piece of folded cardboard. A fellow Hiram student provided the only gauze in the facility, which she happened to bring in a survivor pack.
“It definitely put into perspective how many resources we have, and how easily we can access health care resources,” Lewis said.
Gosnell said it’s been important for the department to offer study abroad trips and other chances for student involvement, so they don’t feel left out of the college experience from being in a new program.
At the same time, she said it takes a very mature student to make it through the program’s rigorous demands.
“There’s no other student that has to be up at 5:30 in the morning on a snowy day, and be in the hospital in Cleveland by seven o’clock, ready to give patient care,” she said. “They have to be, in some respects, more mature, more adult, more responsible, than their peers because of the accountability and responsibility of nursing.”
Some nursing students have proved that by assuming a heavier load of responsibilities than typical college students. Whether it was being a student-athlete, as Lewis and Ruese were, or being a mother, like Oslin and senior Meagan Storer, students in the program had to balance academics with everyday life.
“The nursing schedule is a tough load,” Oslin said. “It doesn’t leave a lot of time in between, even if you’re not married and have a kid.”
Storer agreed, saying that while being a mother has made things a little harder, she’s been able to continue to meet the program’s demands.
“A lot of where we are now is because of what we’ve done,” Storer said, “but we’ve also had great professor support. They’re willing to go above and beyond. When I had E.J. (her son), Catherine (Schoenewald, instructor of nursing) let me do an independent study so I could meet hours for the semester and get financial aid.”
The graduates agree that the hard work has prepared them for the next challenge.
Upon graduation, most of them will prepare to take the NCLEX exams, the test required to become a registered nurse, and then begin their job hunt. Some will search locally, while others will try another state or non-traditional paths. Braham will be joining the navy nurse corps, and Ruese has already found a full time job at a clinic in Kent.
But no matter what their career path, Gosnell said there will always be something special about this first class.
“They’ve been the pioneers. They’ve been the leaders,” she said. “They will always be the first. They’ll carry a history that none of the other graduates will. That’s pretty special.”