Montana State University

MSU College of Nursing Kalispell campus celebrates high local employment rate

April 8, 2015 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

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As the Montana State University College of Nursing Kalispell campus prepares to celebrate its latest group of graduates this spring, it’s also celebrating the fact that approximately 85 percent of its graduates are employed locally in the Flathead Valley, with another five percent employed within the state.

Each semester, approximately eight students who have completed their education at the MSU College of Nursing’s Kalispell campus receive a bachelor's degree in nursing from MSU. Before being admitted to MSU’s upper division nursing program in Kalispell, most students attend Flathead Valley Community College for pre-nursing science, arts and humanities coursework, according to campus administrators.

The first class from the campus graduated in 2004. Then, in 2009, an anonymous donor provided funds that allowed the Kalispell campus to increase its enrollment from eight to 16 students admitted yearly. Since the expansion, approximately 40 students are involved in the program in some way at any given time, site administrators said. And, since the campus opened, approximately 100 Kalispell-based nurses have graduated from MSU, according to data that site administrators compiled.

“We are delighted that such a high percentage of our graduates are employed locally and in Montana,” said Sandra Kuntz, associate professor and Kalispell site coordinator. “This is terrific, because we know that the majority of our graduates prefer to stay in the valley post-graduation. It’s also important because it is helping to fulfill an important need for high-quality healthcare in our state.”

Nursing positions also pay well, Kuntz said. The average annual salary for a registered nurse in Montana in 2013 was $60,698, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

A 2011 graduate of the program, Loni Conley, said the MSU College of Nursing Kalispell campus provided her with the option to pursue a nursing career while staying at her home in the Flathead Valley. 

Conley, who grew up in Missoula and has lived in the Flathead Valley for 10 years, said she and her husband had a mortgage and a young child when she started the program. Days before the start of her junior year, she gave birth to her second child.

“Being able to stay here with my family and do all of my schooling was terrific,” Conley said. Conley now works as medical surgery and special care unit director at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish.

For people in the valley who are considering nursing, Conley noted the program is a great option.

“It’s just a great opportunity to live in a rural area and have access to such high quality education,” she said.

According to Kuntz, one indication of the quality of the MSU College of Nursing Kalispell campus program is that approximately 94 percent of its graduates pass the NCLEX-RN©, the national licensing exam for nurses, on the first try. For those few students from the Kalispell campus who took the exam a second time, the pass rate is 100 percent.

“The NCLEX-RN pass rates serve as testimony to exceptional lower division preparation at FVCC, student excellence and commitment to their education, and the outstanding dedication of clinical and lead nursing faculty in Kalispell and Missoula,” Kuntz said.

Pat Wilson, executive director of education services at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, which employs a number of MSU College of Nursing Kalispell campus graduates, agreed that the MSU College of Nursing’s Kalispell program is top-notch.

Nurses who have graduated from that program come to the organization well-prepared for a variety of nursing positions, she said, with many advancing into management positions.

“These graduates have a great foundation,” Wilson said. “It’s a huge benefit to all people living in the Flathead Valley to be able to have a quality nursing workforce that is well-trained.”

In addition to Kalispell Regional Healthcare and North Valley Hospital, students and graduates from the College of Nursing Kalispell campus complete clinical rotations and find employment in the valley with Pathways Treatment Center, Western Montana Mental Health Center and the Flathead County Public Health Department, Kuntz said.

“All of these organizations are an essential part of our success,” she added.

For example, this summer North Valley Hospital will celebrate 29 years of collaboration with the college as a site for clinical rotations and clinical and leadership classes, according to Chris Bogers, the hospital’s chief clinical officer. She said the hospital currently employs about 30 of the college’s graduates.

“We are so fortunate to have such well-trained nurses graduating just a few miles down the road,” Bogers said. “It has been a huge benefit for NVH because we are always looking for talented nursing staff that want to stay in the area and care for those in our community.”

The MSU College of Nursing in Bozeman was founded in 1937 and has received continuous national accreditation since 1949. Since its inception, the college has been a multi-campus program, with many undergraduate students completing lower-division coursework in Bozeman and those same students completing upper-division coursework at the college’s satellite campuses in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula. Each of the college's campuses has resident faculty who serve both undergraduate and graduate students.  

MSU College of Nursing Kalispell works closely with the Missoula campus. Together, the two are known as the MSU College of Nursing Missoula-Kalispell Campus. The Kalispell campus operates with clinical instructors who are hired locally, but much of the teaching and instruction originates in Missoula and takes place over a state-of-the-art videoconferencing and networking system. This spring, the College of Nursing was added to the Health Information Exchange of Montana (HIEM) network. Kuntz said the network has dramatically improved reliability, quality and connection speed for the campus interactive video system.

For more information about the MSU College of Nursing and its campuses across the state, visit http://www.montana.edu/nursing/ or call (406) 994-3783.

Contact: Sandra Kuntz, (406) 751-6969 or skuntz@montana.edu