KSC raises the bar for nursing program

Tensions have risen as numbers have lowered in Keene State College’s nursing program. There are only 33 students in the senior class of this major, and even still, they are routinely evaluated, which can lead to cutting students who do not meet standards. As for the ones who got booted from the program, many are frustrated with the timing of the news as well as the costs associated.

KSC Junior Emmi-Jo Trundy explained that the college didn’t give adequate time for students to work out their predicaments. “They didn’t give us that much information and when they did, it was on a later date,” she explained. Trundy continued, “So the people who got ‘no’s’ didn’t really have time to transfer to other nursing programs because deadlines had already passed.”

Trundy said the school evaluated every nursing student and based on that assessment, gave either a yes, no or maybe. She said she was one of the select few given a ‘yes.’ However, Trundy’s roommate was given a ‘no.’ “She got a no because her science G.P.A. wasn’t up to where it could be,” she said.

Trundy said she was stuck on how she felt about this decision. She said, “Part of me feels really bad for her. But another part of me as a nursing major, [knows] science is really critical and it’s something you should stay on top of through your college career.”

Trundy explained that it’s not just the reputation of the school being affected, but also the students involved with the nursing program. “If you want something you have to put work in too,” she said. “You have to learn to set your own standards.”

Director of Nursing, Dr. Clementine Hinsperger-Rice, said that’s what this program is all about – the standards. She explained that often students think to get into nursing because they have the right demeanor for it, but they may not have the adequate background. “High school matters; instead of recruiting kids in twelfth grade, they should be starting it in ninth grade,” she said. She said that many times the students who take and thrive in advanced science and math classes in high-school tend to do better in nursing programs because they’ve been given the appropriate material as a foundation.

Hinsberger-Rice said she feels bad for the students who weren’t permitted to continue the nursing program. She said that while she wasn’t there at the time – since she was just recently hired in June – she knows the school wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt the students.  She said, “I don’t think the nursing program knew [when they would tell students] until last semester. I think they were all just as surprised as the students.” Hinsperger-Rice said it wasn’t a quick fix; the school knew they had to stay accredited in order to offer the nursing program, but she explained, “You can’t just change the curriculum, you have to do all the leg work.”

She said this was why she was hired: to help get the school to a place where the nursing program was suitable for accreditation, allowing KSC to still offer nursing. “I think this implementation of the changes they’ve made to the program is going to make this an immensely sought after program,” she said. Hinsperger-Rice said that these changes are normal, as many schools including Plymouth State have had difficulties at first with maintaining a nursing program.

Hinsperger-Rice also addressed the struggles of being a nursing student. With a Ph.D in nursing and having once owned a private practice, Hinsperger-Rice said she understands it completely.  “Nursing isn’t for everyone,” she said, “you have to have the heart and soul in this.”

One student who wished to remain un-named, said the college’s decision to cut her from the program didn’t deplete her passion. “It makes me want to pursue nursing even more,” she said. She continue that her plan is to transfer at the end of the year to another nursing program. This student explained she was very thrown off by the new standards. “I planned on retaking a course I hadn’t done well in and they didn’t give me that option. I would have had that option if the nursing program had stayed the way that it was,” she explained.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

However, this student also acknowledged that it wasn’t entirely KSC’s fault. “There are things I blame the school for, but in terms of the workload though, I think I might have underestimated just how hard it was, and [was] taking on a little bit too much. Maybe that was why what happened, happened,” she said.

She said the way she understood it was that expectations were raised after KSC graduating nursing majors didn’t perform well on the state exams. She explained, “If [the standards] had stayed the way it was, I would have been fine.”

One student who felt similarly, took her complaints outside of the school. According to an article written by Melanie Plenda in The Keene Sentinel, Jillian Marlowe filed a lawsuit against KSC earlier this year in April. Marlowe declined comment for this article, but in the Sentinel’s article, it explained that she “was seeking reinstatement to the preceptorship (mentorship), and monetary damages” because Marlowe felt she was unjustly booted from the program without a warning, especially as she was set to graduate this year.

According to the Sentinel, the college did originally say Marlowe could continue her courses as long as she completed a new preceptorship in the summer of 2016.  But 11 days later, the Sentinel informed that KSC added she had to successfully finish a paid internship in the summer of 2016, before Marlowe could start a new preceptorship in the fall of 2016. According to the article, “Keene State officials in sworn affidavits claim that it was Marlowe’s poor clinical skills and inability to do basic nursing tasks — such as take vital signs properly — that got her removed from her preceptorship.”

However, the article states that Marlowe was suing because she feels the school didn’t stay faithful to the contracts outlined in the nursing student handbook. In addition, the Sentinel explains that if Marlowe wasn’t allowed to graduate from KSC’s nursing program, in order to still pursue nursing, she would have to retake and pay again for nearly half the classes she’s already completed, as many of them won’t transfer out.

Already, the nursing program is one of the more expensive degrees at KSC. According to Keene’s tuition, in addition to paying $500 extra for each of the four clinical semesters, students also have to pay for scrubs, traveling expenses to clinical institutions and medical books.

KSC nursing major Emmi-Jo Trundy said the cost of the nursing program is hefty. She said, “This semester alone was over $1000 for all of our books and scrubs and equipment we had to buy.”

In addition, Trundy said she will have to supplement her own transportation to clinics outside Keene.“Myself and my group, we have clinicals in Peterborough, N.H., which is a 40 minute drive,” she said.

2015 KSC graduate Jessica Morissette said she was lucky to have money to spend for the program. She explained that she felt heard and supported by her instructors. Morissette also said that she knew the nursing program would be difficult, but her passion for the career propelled her to surge forward. She explained, “One of the big factors that influenced me to push through the sleepless nights and long days was knowing that nursing was my future.”

Morissette continued that the rigorous and strict educational components of the program are there for a reason, and hence are to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Morissette said the ultimate test of this knowledge is through the National Council Licensure Examination Registered Nurse, which is nationally required of prospective nurses. Morissette said the exam is much more than what is taught in classes to “ensure that students and graduates are studying independently for this exam in order to pass.”

“The program is difficult because that is what our job demands,” she said. “These are human lives.”

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com

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