High Demand

BU’s nursing department, which produced its first 45 graduates in 1979, has evolved into one of the leading programs of its kind, offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the ever-advancing profession.

GRADUATES OF Bloomsburg University’s nursing program are assured of a job when they graduate. But a nursing degree from BU requires sacrifice, hard work, dedication and lots of determination.

“It’s a tough and stressful program, but it prepares you for the real world of nursing,” says Kayla Farr, who landed her current job as a registered nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Geisinger Medical Center four months before she graduated in 2010.

Up to 1,000 high school students, most from Pennsylvania, apply each year for admission to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Less than 10 percent — between 70 or 80 students — are admitted, according to Michelle Ficca, chair of the department.

The curriculum, constantly evolving to reflect today’s explosion of knowledge and technology, has a reputation for being rigorous, and Bloomsburg graduates boast a high passage rate on required licensing exams. The competitiveness of the application process allows Bloomsburg “to take the best of the best,” says Ficca, who has chaired the department since spring 2011.

The nursing department prepares undergraduates for a wide range of specialties, including critical care, obstetrics, pediatrics, rehabilitation, trauma and home care, and offers a Master of Science in Nursing with concentrations in adult and family nurse practitioner, adult health clinical nurse specialist, community health, nursing administration and nurse anesthesia.

High expectations
The 18-year-old nursing students arrive at Bloomsburg with a deter- mination not found in most majors, Ficca says. Freshman year is filled with challenging courses in the natural and social sciences, including anatomy, chemistry and psychology. To advance to the sophomore year, students must have at least a 2.5 GPA and a minimum grade of C in all required classes. The fact that BU generally loses only five freshman nursing students a year to substandard grades reflects students’ deter- mination, she adds.

Nursing classes with clinical expe- riences in nearby hospitals begin in the sophomore year. Classes increase in complexity, as do clinical experi- ences that take students to Geisinger Medical Center and hospitals in Berwick, Bloomsburg, Lewisburg and Shamokin two or three days each week.

“Within three months of graduation, we’re at 100 percent placement,” Ficca says.

Master’s programs
The same placement rate is true for the master’s program, first offered in 1985. With the exception of the nurse anesthetist program, the typical graduate student is a part-time stu- dent juggling family and career. The 120 graduate students are generally in school to further their careers and in many cases their employers fund all or part of their educations. The nurse practitioner program is the biggest draw and its graduates are in the most demand, Ficca says.

This May, the first class will grad- uate from the newest program, which educates nurse anesthetists. Offered exclusively in conjunction with Geisinger, the 33-month pro- gram admitted its first 12 students — chosen from a field of 40 applicants — in August 2009.

Students spend the first nine months at BU, where they earn 24 core credits. That’s followed by 24 months at Geisinger for more class- room work and about 1,500 hours in operating rooms — nearly three times the on-the-job training required by the Council on Accreditation.

“Enrollment is limited to expose students to the maximum number of cases,” says Art Richer, program director and a nurse anesthetist. “Anything less would dilute the experience students have.”

Once a student begins, it’s a full- time commitment. “They’re either in the operating room or the classroom, and it’s a constant learning process,” says Richer, adding students must prepare for each case by reviewing pathology reports, considering drug interactions, assessing their patients’ health and choosing the appropriate drugs and dosages for the procedure.

Richer says the proximity of Bloomsburg to Geisinger, eight miles away in Danville, makes the program attractive. “At some schools, students have to travel to various hospitals to get all their experiences. At Geisinger, they can get it all … obstetrics, pedi- atrics, transplants, heart surgery … “

Monica Masemer, a 2006 graduate of BU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, has about a year to go before she graduates from the anesthesia program. She’s in the operating room three or four days a week — days that begin at 4:45 a.m. and continue late into the evenings as she prepares for the next day’s cases — and she loves every moment.

“It’s a gift to be a nurse,” she says. “I’ve had an amazing career so far. You have to be selfless and put others before yourself. It’s just so rewarding. Grad school’s tough schedule is temporary compared to saving someone’s life.”

Ficca says the biggest challenge is keeping up with the knowledge explosion and impact of technology on the profession. The 16 full-time and 22 part-time faculty members are expected to stay current with devel- opments and share that information.

“Nothing is stagnant in health care,” Ficca says, citing radical evolutions in medications, treatment plans, nursing care delivery and inpatient settings over the last two decades.

“In technology, we have electronic charting and medical records, new equipment and the use of human and mechanical simulations in class- rooms and learning labs,” she adds. “All give students the opportunity to enhance their clinical judgment in a safe setting.”

Since nursing literally is a life- and-death career, “our graduates need to be comfortable with decision- making skills,” she adds.”

Teaching critical thinking skills is no simple task, yet recent graduate Farr says the nursing program does a terrific job. “Critical thinking is a skill I use every day in the NICU,” she says.

The challenges
Health care is not immune from cut- backs in the workforce, and today’s medical facilities are treating more acutely ill patients with fewer staffers, according to Ficca.

Technological advances mean prolonged lives, yet increasing num- bers of patients fail to do preventive care and tend to be more ill when they enter the system, Ficca explains.

Because people are living longer, there’s an increased focus on older adults, not just those in nursing homes and hospitals, but on the well elderly and the services they need.

“We find our graduates need to be knowledgeable about almost everything … including theoretical perspectives, the latest developments and clinical and technology issues.”

While Ficca believes Bloomsburg is meeting the challenges, the nursing program can never rest on its laurels. “The curriculum needs to be fluid because expectations are getting higher and higher.”

The future
Ficca hopes the future includes community-specific health promotion and disease prevention — “keeping people well as opposed to treating them only when they are sick.”

She also believes nursing will play a larger role in the delivery of health care to the insured, uninsured and underinsured. A challenge specific to Bloomsburg is increasing students’ contact with culturally diverse popu- lations, she says.

And there’s the hope that Bloomsburg will one day offer a doctorate in nursing practice, which will comply with accrediting standards and meet the educational needs of advanced practice nurses. •

Sue A. Beard, the retired editor of The Record Herald, Waynesboro, Pa., lives in North Fort Myers, Fla.

Remembering a Founder
LAURETTA PIERCE, one of the founding faculty in Bloomsburg University’s Nursing Department, had a soft spot in her heart for graduate students. So it is fitting that Annetta Pierce, a retired secondary educator, counselor and administrator, has endowed a scholarship fund in her twin sister’s memory to aid nurses who are continuing their educations beyond the baccalaureate level.

The Dr. Lauretta Pierce Scholarship in Nursing will be presented each year to one or more students. The criteria for the $1,000 awards are exemplary character, scholarship and drive, as well as financial need.

Lauretta Pierce was a trained nurse who taught at Harrisburg’s Polyclinic Hospital, Wilmington General Hospital, Penn State/Hershey Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania before joining the Bloomsburg faculty in 1974, helping to write the fledgling nursing curriculum and serving as a pathophysiology and research instructor. Pierce was assistant chair of the department from 1988 to 1990 and chair for two years until her retirement in December 1991. Under her leadership, Bloomsburg’s graduate nursing program earned its initial accreditation. She passed away Nov. 1, 2009, after suffering a massive stroke.

Annetta Pierce made a $25,000 donation to establish the scholarship in tribute to her sister. “Lauretta really got involved with the master’s degree students in her research work. She really valued education, and she thought the more education nurses got, the more they could do with their lives,” Annetta remembers.

Faculty emerita Christine Alichnie was a close friend of Lauretta and says her former colleague would be pleased that graduate students will benefit from a scholarship established in her honor. “She felt grad students are committed to nursing careers, know what their career goals are and are able to give back very quickly to their professions,” Alichnie says.

(Editor’s note: Like all scholarships at Bloomsburg, the Pierce scholarship is adminis- tered by the Bloomsburg University Foundation. More information is available online at The recipients will be chosen by a committee made up of the chair of the nursing department and two nurse instructors.)

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