Western Michigan nursing partnership program grows

Healthy Times,
Summer 2003

Photo Right: Student nurse, Erin Mulligan (right) with St. Mary's Medical Center staff nurse.

Photo Bottom: Nursing student,Jennifer Gable speaks with patient.




Ask Robi Thomas about her nursing students in Grand Rapids, and she has a hard time containing her enthusiasm.

"They’re wonderful students," says Thomas, assistant professor of Nursing and chair of the Grand Rapids campuses of the University of Detroit Mercy McAuley School of Nursing. "And they’re really wonderful people."

They’re also growing in numbers.

UDM and partners Aquinas College and St. Mary’s Mercy Medical Center launched a four-year, Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in fall 2000 with a freshman class of eight students. Today, 60 students are enrolled, with another 35 expected to join their ranks this fall. According to Thomas, the growth has been exactly as anticipated.

The partnership brought UDM’s accredited nursing program to western Michigan, an area with an increasing need for nursing education. Classes are taught at Aquinas College by UDM and Aquinas faculty, supplemented by clinical experience at St. Mary’s various facilities. Graduates earn UDM degrees.

"The community colleges in our area have a two-year waiting list for their nursing programs," notes Dana Samotis, Aquinas College assistant director of admissions. "You can get a four-year degree here in the time it would take to get into and complete a two-year program at a community college."

Junior Paulette Abbey, who’ll be among the program’s first graduates next year, was drawn by its reputation, the accessibility of the campus and the availability of the faculty.

"I knew it would be a good learning experience because of the student-teacher ratio," says Abbey, who worked as a medical assistant for 10 years before enrolling in the program. "The students and teachers here are like family. We’re always there for each other."

It’s an atmosphere sophomore Abby Cusack appreciates.

"School can be stressful. It’s nice to know there are people who want you to do well and are willing to help you," she says.

Cusack, who registered for the program straight from high school, especially enjoys the clinical work at St. Mary’s.

"The collaboration with St. Mary’s is great," she says. "The staff is very supportive and makes us all feel like they love having us there."

Thomas says the program’s students continually amaze her.

"They’re diligent students; the junior class has a 3.5 GPA. Many of them are working 20 hours a week or more, going to school fulltime and they still find time to be active volunteers," she says. "They’re involved in all kinds of community events, they sponsor needy families at Christmas, they coach kids’ sports, they’re volunteer babysitters for foster children, and on and on. I’m impressed so often by what I see these students doing. They care so much."

Abbey says it makes sense that students who care about others would gravitate to the program.

"The program’s focus is on the community," she explains. "When you learn in that type of environment, it makes you more determined to help others."