Most of the nursing students graduating with degrees from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford on May 1 began that journey just before health care experienced its most challenging moment in decades – the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through a year of fundamental courses and two years of nursing training, students were not cowed by new challenges and reports of nurses leaving their current jobs, often to accept another in the same field.
Dr. Jean Truman, director of the nursing program, and Mary Dinger, assistant professor of nursing, said that students leaving this year expressed no trepidation about their career.
“They’re excited to be entering the profession,” Truman said. “During COVID is all that they’ve ever known professionally. They practiced and went to clinicals all throughout the pandemic.”
Dinger agreed. “This is what they’ve known for the two years that they’ve been engaged in our program.”
Pitt-Bradford has several nursing programs. Its associate of science in nursing is a two-year degree that results in a graduate who is prepared to take the certification test necessary to become a registered nurse. Many students, however, need to complete a year of foundational courses, such as anatomy and physiology, psychology and English, before they can enter the associate program.
Once students complete their associate of science in nursing degree, some choose to stay to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. The Bachelor of Science degree is also available to nurses who are already practicing registered nurses. Those students undertake additional coursework and clinical experiences to help expand their professional nursing role with a focus on research, community health and leadership development.
Julie Rudolph, a nontraditional student from St. Marys, is one of 26 associate degree graduates in the program this year. All of those students are either continuing on to a bachelor’s degree program or securing employment (they cannot formally accept positions until after passing their certification exam).
Rudolph will be a nurse at Penn Highlands Elk in St. Marys.
“My desire to be a nurse is even stronger since the pandemic,” she said. “While in nursing school, I got a part-time job as a certified nurse assistant. I was in the rooms of people with COVID. It was surreal to see these people so sick and alone. It broke my heart. While I was in a COVID room, a patient asked if I could wash their back, and the gratitude they expressed made me realize I made the right decision attending nursing school.
“My confidence comes from knowing I made it through nursing school and proves I can do anything! Pitt-Bradford nursing program gave me the foundation to begin my career as a nurse.”
Alyssa Colsher of West Reading also graduated with her associate degree. She plans to enter a nurse residency at Penn State Health, where she can further study nursing. Eventually, she would like to become a flight nurse.
Colsher noted that learning during the pandemic provided a unique opportunity to see how health care professionals managed a disease they knew nothing about at first. She is anxious to help relieve nurses who’ve been in the field during the pandemic.
Colsher said she has wanted to be a nurse since she was a teenager watching her mother navigate the health care system for her younger sister when she fell severely ill.
She said the feedback she got from her instructors and other nurses during clinicals (the fieldwork portion of nursing training) gives her confidence.
In addition to the associate degree graduates, Pitt-Bradford also graduated eight students with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Some of the graduates in both programs will go on to work at local facilities where students train while working toward their degrees, including UPMC Kane, UPMC Cole and Penn Highlands Healthcare facilities in St. Marys.
Some of those going to work outside the immediate area are Hanna Hibbs of Middleburg, who will be a nurse in the neurological medical-surgical unit at St. Vincent Hospital in Erie; Anna McNickle will be a registered nurse on a gastrointestinal oncology unit at UPMC Montefiore in Pittsburgh; Caitlyn Hoffman of Gillett, who will be a medical cardiac nurse at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre; Anna Kafferlin of Spring Creek, who will be a nurse at the Rouse Estate skilled nursing care facility in Youngsville; Kaegan Matthews of McClure, who will be a nurse at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital in Lewistown; Emma McClaren of Knoxville, who will be a nurse at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center in Williamsburg, Va; and Steven Tyger of Bradford, who will start his career as a temporary nurse for six months at The Meadows Psychiatric Center in Centre Hall.
For more information on nursing programs at Pitt-Bradford, visit https://www.upb.pitt.edu/academics/majors-minors/nursing-majors.