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Preparing the Nurse of Today AND Tomorrow

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by Patricia Schroeder, RN, MSN, MBA, FAAN, Dean of the School of Nursing

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a snowy day and I was a 5-year-old in kindergarten when I was struck by a car, starting a journey that included weeks of hospitalization and months of recovery. Needing to depend on the nurses and doctors at the hospital was a new, high-stakes experience that opened my eyes to the field. Through good (and unfortunately a few not-so-good) experiences, I learned how nurses touch the lives of individuals and families both through their science and compassion. Nurses enter your life, often at times of great vulnerability, and have the potential to change your life, your health and most certainly, the health care experience.

It was this experience that brought me into nursing.

Nursing is a profession – often a calling – for the more than three million practicing nurses across the U.S. And, as this rapidly transforming health care system continues to evolve, nurses will continue to play a trusted role with the support and expertise they provide to people across their lifespan. In fact, a long trend of Gallup Poll results highlights nursing as the MOST well-respected and trusted profession.

As a career, nursing offers great diversity in experiences and roles, from bedside acute care to teaching, and many practices in between. I have been fortunate enough to experience many of these opportunities across my career.

I have practiced as a bedside nurse, a clinical nurse specialist in surgical cancer care, a teacher, a journal editor, a consultant, a health care executive and now this incredible opportunity to serve as the dean of the School of Nursing at Alverno College. What a gift to be able to influence the lives of the students and faculty I serve, and to affect the future of a profession that has been so good to me.

A community treasure

Alverno College's School of Nursing is a remarkable organization with a long and rich history of supporting the development of a community treasure: The Alverno Nurse. I have long known about the great educational experience that happens here and was fortunate enough to work with Alverno nursing faculty during my own graduate school experience in the early steps of the ability-based educational model. Today, the ability-based and performance-based model is recognized worldwide and continues to evolve and grow.

Not a week goes by without someone from the community telling me, "you can always tell an Alverno nurse," based on her competence, confidence and commitment. Added measures of distinction of our School of Nursing include a large student base – one of the largest nursing schools in Wisconsin – and a fine standing with NCLEX pass rates* at 97 percent for the past rolling two years. (The national average is 88 percent, by the way.)

This achievement is not an accident, but the product of extraordinary teaching, planning and effort of our nursing faculty. We partner with other college experts and departments to support student assessment and development, which creates a powerful learning opportunity for women. Peg Rauschenberger '85, associate dean of Nursing, for example, has been an invaluable partner in this work.

Radical change is the norm

Despite the remarkable achievements that have been accomplished at Alverno, we cannot rest. In today’s world – and specifically in the health care environment – we see radical change as the norm. Therefore, we must assure that we are preparing the nurse of today AND tomorrow because the Alverno Nurse is an essential contribution to health care services across this community and beyond. Because of these radical changes, we are enhancing our work in a number of ways.

"Clinical simulation" is radically changing nursing and clinical education. In Fall 2011, Alverno will kick off our enhanced approach to using simulated clinical scenarios and experiences with the support of a hospital room built into a skills lab and a high-fidelity human patient simulator.

Research demonstrates that students who learn using simulated clinical experiences, in addition to real-life experiences, increase their confidence and clinical reasoning ability. Our obstetric clinical experiences will also be enhanced with an obstetric human patient simulator, providing students with predictable and necessary learning opportunities. This high-tech simulation strategy will only increase in importance over the next few years and provide faculty with new tools and approaches that embrace our tradition of performance-based learning.

In response to both community need and market demand, we are excited to launch a new Family Nurse Practitioner program at the master’s level in Fall 2011. Our experience providing excellent master’s in nursing education sets the stage for preparing nurses to contribute in this additional role. Rising shortages in primary care providers have been described throughout Wisconsin and across the U.S. Family Nurse Practitioners achieve great clinical outcomes and are valued for their practice demonstrated by a public who describe their high levels of trust in nurse providers.

There has been great interest in the new Family Nurse Practitioner program and, along with Catherine Knuteson, our MSN program director, we are working attentively to assure a great program launch. We are confident that this program will make a positive difference in primary care delivery throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

And still, we cannot rest. Further developments and discussions are underway as the Alverno College School of Nursing grows, advances and partners with other schools and health care systems. We are creating the future and we’ve only just begun. It is a privilege to be here!

* NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) is a nursing licensure exam; pass rates are measured as first-time successful achievement.