A professor interviews recent nursing program graduates.

by Julie Beck, D.Ed., Professor of Nursing

As a nursing educator, I have worked with thousands of students over the years, and every student’s story is different. During National Nurse’s Week, I sat down with some of our graduating Bachelor of Science in Nursing students for a brief discussion about their educational journey.

For anyone who has not heard, nursing is headed for a significant shortage of registered nurses. Currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections (2019-2029), the registered nurse is one of the top occupations likely to see job growth through 2029 due to the retirement and workforce exits of nurses who are currently in practice. Wilson College Nursing is helping to meet the needs of the nursing profession by graduating bachelor’s prepared nurses to improve the future of healthcare. The five graduates I spoke with for this story are representative of the over sixty nursing students we graduated this year and who will be helping to define the future of nursing in healthcare.

Twins from New York

The first students I chatted with were Olivia and Ophelia McDonald. They are unusual not only because they are twins but because they chose to come to Wilson from Long Island, N.Y. I wondered why these two chose Wilson for their nursing degrees, given it was so far from their home. The answer? Their mother!

She did some research on nursing programs out of state and found Wilson’s BSN Program. The application was free. There were several options for attaining your bachelor’s degree – a three-year program and a four-year option. The program also offered a low faculty-to-student ratio, greater flexibility with classes, first-semester clinical starts, and more hands-on clinical experience than other schools that they looked at. Overall, it was economical, student-focused, and offered more clinical experiences earlier in their curriculum than other options.

Both sisters started out their journey by taking certified nursing assistant training in high school. They both felt that this was beneficial to better understand what it means to work in healthcare as well as be able to balance school and work. Part of their high school education was going to an extended care facility every other day of the week. This work helped them learn how to interact with clients and other members of the healthcare team. Their work in healthcare continued while they were students at Wilson. They worked as nurse interns at Chambersburg Hospital, which helped them practice and apply the concepts that they were learning in the classroom.

The Liberal Arts Make Well-Rounded Nurses

When I asked what courses were the most helpful to them during their journey at Wilson, the twins had different responses. Olivia felt that Narrative Medicine was most beneficial. The course helped to shine a light on the many facets of healthcare and pointed out that nursing is more about caring for the whole person than just doing CPR on a patient. The course explored the emotions, stresses, coping methods, and joys of being a nurse and dealing with clients in all different healthcare settings. Ophelia, on the other hand, most enjoyed her Digital Photography course. It gave her a creative outlet that she really appreciated while taking her other nursing courses. Both said they appreciated taking liberal studies courses as well as core nursing courses. I think that including liberal arts courses makes our nursing graduates well-rounded and helps them have a more balanced academic experience. After all, nursing is an art AND a science.

I asked the twins what was the best advice that they received while they attended college. For Olivia, being advised to do an internship at Chambersburg Hospital was perfect for her. This work experience helped her see the “bigger picture” of what nursing does at the patient’s bedside. It was the application of what she was learning in the classroom in a clinical setting.

The best advice Ophelia received was, “you can do it.” She explained that there were times throughout her academic career when she felt overwhelmed. The “can do” attitude helped to put things into perspective and helped her realize that nursing is hard, but that attitude can make all of the difference in the mastery of content.
Speaking of mastery of content, Ophelia also mentioned that she appreciated the “flipped classroom” approach to teaching we use. This teaching strategy requires the student to prepare for class with readings and pre-class quizzes. The typical lecture time is spent applying that knowledge in experiential exercises. It was this application of knowledge that she found to be most beneficial.

Lastly, when asked about what the future holds for these sisters, the answers were as different as they are. Olivia originally thought that nursing was all about the acute care setting, leading codes, performing CPR, and helping to intubate patients in the intensive care unit. Through her Wilson experience, she learned that there were so many other roles that nurses do in healthcare. She now hopes to work in an outpatient setting and is considering continuing her education as an aesthetician (think skin care with Botox injections, laser treatments, etc.). Ophelia, on the other hand, is considering working in an operating room with the end goal of becoming a school nurse. Both young women were impressed with the depth and breadth of nursing roles that are available in healthcare.

The need for qualified nurses is great in all areas of healthcare. I am confident these two women will succeed in whatever areas they choose and will contribute greatly to the well-being of their patients.

From Boot Camp to Wilson’s Nursing Simulation Lab

Over the years, one thing that I’ve noticed is how distinct students with military experience are from the rest of their classmates. They are most often, from what I’ve seen, a non-traditional student who exudes a certain level of leadership in the class and takes a more structured approach to their studies. This semester, the Wilson College Nursing program has had the distinct honor of recognizing three nursing students for the Lt. Colonel William A. Knaus Award for Veteran’s Service: Ashley Adams for the Army, Johnathan St. Clair for the Marines, and Brittany Reaver for the Air Force. The nursing program also has the honor of graduating a fifteen-year veteran from the Air Force, Elizabeth Madsen.

I sat down with three of these recent nursing graduates to ask them a bit more about their military experience and what it brought to Wilson and their nursing educational experience.

First, I wanted to know why they had opted to join the military. Johnathan St. Clair served in the Marines for five years. He chose this route directly from high school because he felt that he needed to have greater structure in his life at the time. Also, his family has a long history of serving in the military, and many of his friends from high school were enlisting. Serving in the Marines was a great choice for him. Working alongside corpsmen in the service, he became interested in nursing. Liz Madsen joined the Air Force straight after high school as well. Liz and her best friend made a pact that they would both go into the service. When she went to talk with a recruiter, the Army recruiter was not present, so she ended up signing up for the Air Force. Another motivating factor was that someone told her that she would never be able to do it. (Nothing motivates a nurse to do something more than being told that they cannot do it!) After fifteen years of service, she decided to pursue the profession that she always had a passion for, nursing. Brittany Reaver chose the Air Force to continue her family legacy of military service.

When asked about what benefits the military has provided them in higher education, their unanimous answer was the GI Bill®*. This allows veterans to get a free or almost free education. It has been a great gift to receive, although the paperwork is a bit daunting in the beginning. All three students transferred to Wilson from other programs in order to earn a bachelor’s degree with us. They had great financial aid counselors who helped them through the paperwork process.

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

Military Skills Give Students a Head Start

Another theme that emerged from our discussion was that the military had taught them structure and discipline, which had made them better college students. They arrived in college already knowing how to study and how to set time aside for studying, working, and leading study groups, and they came with a work ethic that helped to get things done. They further explained that in the military, there were many opportunities for advancement and promotion, but you had to work for them. This was similar to what they found in college when they arrived — you have to work for your grades and achievements.

Other themes that came out during the interview were how their military backgrounds instilled the importance of confidence, advocacy, attention to detail, understanding the chain of command, and teamwork. Building confidence within yourself and your team is an important skill in both the military and higher education and can lead to personal and group resiliency. They said both were skills they had learned in the military and could apply as nurses. Confidence in your choices, your actions, and advocating for your clients are all part of the skill set that nursing helps to build through the curriculum. Military students already have that skill set in spades. Knowing how to “roll with the punches” is another skill they bring with them and will prepare them well for clinical practice.

Attention to detail was another skill developed in the military that helped these students succeed in the nursing program. Learning how to prioritize and not miss small details helped them with their assignments both in and out of the classroom. This was especially important when working with their clients in the hospital setting. The specifics of how to write a care plan, how to prioritize the information that patients shared with them during their hospital stay, and what was most important to convey to their faculty benefited from their attention to detail.

Lastly, an enormous part of their military experience that helped them succeed in nursing was the concept of teamwork. These students had learned how to create and lead groups of people in life-challenging scenarios. From boot camp to the war in Afghanistan, they have learned the importance of working together toward a common goal. They are capable of leading teams, prioritizing goals, and developing a healthy work environment for the people that they lead. This is evidenced both in the classroom and in the clinical setting. Teamwork in nursing is essential. Nurses serve at the patient’s bedside 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You must learn how to trust your coworkers and the healthcare team to do what is always in the patient’s best interest.

Speaking of best interests, I asked these students what wisdom they could share with other potential military veterans who may be attracted to the nursing profession. Brittany stated that going into nursing was the “best decision I ever made.” Her life and military experience helped move her from an ambition to work with animals in veterinary science to the desire to work with people in nursing. She also stated that you should “just do it” and “push through.”

Interestingly, and something I hadn’t expected, was that the term “imposter syndrome” came up several times in the discussion. They felt initially that they did not belong — both in the military and in college. They said that transferring to Wilson helped them adjust and feel they did belong. They said that even though they were not traditional undergraduate students, the supportive atmosphere at the College helped them feel at home and that they were not alone. Johnathan said that you learn to “vibe with your tribe” at the College. All agreed that Wilson forged a sense of belonging.

The Benefits of Wilson Nursing

Speaking of changes and growth, I asked the students what they appreciated the most about their educational journey at Wilson. They agreed that the largest benefit, and one that set the College apart from other nursing programs, were the clinical opportunities. At Wilson, students begin their clinical experience in their very first semester. The graduates stated that they are very much “hands-on learners” and that this attracted them to our nursing program.

They also appreciated the Simulation Lab and the practical experiences that students were able to achieve in the Nursing Resource Center. They stated that the degree and openness of communication with the faculty were very valuable. One student mentioned that the nursing faculty “really pay attention to what we say and try to make the changes that we suggest.” They said that faculty engagement in student success is an integral part of what makes the Wilson experience so different from other institutions/nursing programs.

To conclude, I am very grateful to our military students who attend Wilson. Thank you for your service and for your anticipated service to the nursing profession. I have every confidence that you will lead and succeed, as evidenced by your impact on Wilson College.


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