Today’s commencement at Goshen College will mark several last moments for the 288 graduates receiving their diplomas. The last exams. The last papers written. The last time every member of the ‘Class of 2010’ will be together.
But the event will also include a very unique first. Fourteen students will be the first recipients of master of science in nursing degrees from the college.
The program is a three-year, part-time program with two different tracks — family nurse practitioner and clinical nurse leader — and clinical sites are located throughout the area, including right across the street at Goshen General Hospital. The age range and work experience of the students varies, but they must each have at least a year of nursing under their belts.
According to Brenda Srof, professor of nursing and director of the graduate program in nursing, conversations to add a masters in nursing program began several years ago within the department once the undergraduate program began growing.
"A lot of students were asking for a master’s program, so we began going through the motions," Srof said.
Several students who had received their bachelor’s degrees waited for the master’s program at Goshen College rather than furthering their education at another college with an established program — such as nearby Bethel College and IUSB — or an online college. Once Goshen College received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the student applications began rolling in.
"I have been waiting for the school to start up a master’s program for so long," upcoming graduate Linda Kline said. Kline received her undergraduate degree in 2005 and works at a visiting nursing center in Kalamazoo.
There are nine core courses that are required in the master’s program, along with a couple additional courses, depending on the specific track of choice. Students were required to take six to nine credits per semester for the three-year program, but were allowed to work full-time along with taking courses. Having the flexibility to balance a job, which requires them to be on-call frequently, along with classes, has made the students appreciative of dependable co-workers.
"The support we received from our co-workers has been phenomenal," said Julie Rheinheimer. She works as an emergency room nurse at the Goshen Center for Cancer Care.
Merl Mast, the elder statesman of the class, received his undergraduate degree in nursing in 1982. He works as an oncology nurse at Elkhart General Hospital. He said he "found his niche" after completing home infusion work with cancer patients. But having an additional degree opens the door to a myriad of career possibilities.
"There are just so many opportunities available now," Mast said, not the least of which is earning certification, which is required in several medical fields nowadays.
Betsy Garber, who received her undergraduate degree in 2001 and is a clinical trials nurse at Goshen Center for Cancer Care, said that being in the first class to complete the program gives the nursing students a unique perspective on any fine-tuning that may need to be done in the future.
"As the guinea pigs to the program, (the professors) are open to feedback and listen to what we think," Garber said.
While as with any other graduates, the future for this group of 14 is unclear, the timing could not have been better for the program to thrive. As Srof pointed out, the passage of the national health care reform bill has put a renewed emphasis on the nursing field.
"The health care reform validates what we are doing," Srof said. "If more people have health care insurance, then there will be a need for more health care providers. So, it’s a really good fit."