BOZEMAN — Students from Fort Belknap, Billings, Laurel and Helena are among the first eight to graduate this spring from Montana State University’s new doctor of nursing practice program – the first and only program of its kind in the state. Launched in 2013, the program aims to help address Montana’s shortage of health care providers, particularly in rural areas.
As an enrolled member of the Assiniboine tribe from Montana’s Fort Belknap reservation – which has a population of approximately 3,000 people spread out over more than 1,000 square miles – Jennifer Show knows firsthand the isolation of rural Montana. As a nurse, she is also acutely aware of the need for health care providers in those areas, yet how difficult it can be to attract providers to rural settings.
“I’m living back on my reservation again, and if you look where we are geographically, you can see how isolated we are,” Show said. “It’s really hard to get people, particularly providers, to want to come to these areas…most people need to have some type of a connection to the area in order to want to come here.”
Now, Show plans to work as a health care provider in a rural area herself.
“I am going to work as a nurse practitioner for the Indian Health Service, although I’m not sure where – I’ll go wherever they need me,” Show said.
MSU’s new doctor of nursing practice program was designed, in part, to help address a shortage of primary health care providers in Montana, according to Helen Melland, dean of the MSU College of Nursing. Students who graduate from the program are eligible to become board-certified as nurse practitioners in their area of specialization.
“All of Montana is considered a medically underserved state,” Melland said. “Studies show that most nurses tend to stay in their communities, and these students are currently living in various locations throughout Montana, so we expect that these nurses will become health care providers throughout the state.”
Melland added that statistics show that approximately 75 percent of nurses educated at MSU will stay in the state to work.
Jennifer Sofie, the family clinical coordinator for the doctor of nursing practice program, said there is a huge need in Montana for advanced practice nurses.
“When you talk about the difference between the bachelor’s-prepared nurse and a nurse practitioner, you’re really talking about a different type of patient care,” Sofie said. “The practice of nurse practitioners builds on the foundation that bachelor’s-prepared nurses have but prepares them to practice independently and really, at the highest level of nursing practice. Our graduates are educated to be primary care providers. They are able to work independently in clinical settings where they will see patients and treat a huge variety of diseases and ailments.”
The first students to enroll in the program began taking classes in the fall of 2013. Classes are delivered primarily online, with teleconference and videoconference used to supplement content. In addition to the 83 academic credits that are needed for graduation, the degree requires students to complete 1,125 hours in clinical settings. Students in the program choose from one of two options: family and individual nurse practitioner or psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner. Mirroring a national trend, the doctor of nursing practice program replaces the master’s-level nurse practitioner program that had been offered at MSU since the late ‘50s.
Melland said she is delighted that the program is helping students achieve their goals while simultaneously helping to address a need for health care providers in the state.
Show first came to MSU as an undergraduate student on a presidential scholarship. She initially intended to major solely in psychology, but she fell in love with a nursing class and decided to pursue both. She graduated in 2005 with dual degrees in nursing and psychology and then went on to work in a variety of settings – first as a nurse with the Indian Health Service in Browning and in Fort Belknap, then as a nurse corps officer for the U.S. Navy, including a tour of duty in Kuwait. Show then managed a Naval clinic in Pensacola, Florida, before heading to San Diego, where she served as manager of a pulmonary clinic and worked in an emergency room.
She said her experience in MSU’s doctor of nursing practice program has been positive.
“The professors are great, and they really want to make sure you understand the material, which is very important. This program helps connect the dots more. It makes the picture clearer,” she said.
Jessica Havens originally came to Montana from Grand Junction, Colorado, to attend Carroll College. She graduated in 2008 with a nursing degree and worked as a nurse in Bozeman and Billings before moving to Helena.
She always had a goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, Havens said. As a mother of young children, she was drawn to MSU’s doctoral program because of the ability to complete her studies online.
“With little kids and with my husband’s job, it would have been really hard to move someplace to go to school,” she said.
Havens added that the online educational setting originally sounded daunting – “I don’t blog, I didn’t like Facebook, I don’t like online forums,” she said – but it turned out to be fine.
“The professors and instructors worked really hard to create an atmosphere where we could bond with our classmates and instructors as much as possible,” she said, and she noted that the coursework was designed to provide real benefit to the students.
“There wasn’t a lot of busywork in the whole program. The instructors made sure the assignments they chose were valuable,” Havens said.
Havens plans to stay in the Helena area and work in a primary care setting, she said.
Anna Nesovic, from Billings, was originally drawn to nursing because of her grandmother, who was a nurse during World War II as she cared for returning soldiers and who helped to develop emergency services for the community of Rudyard, where she lived on the family’s farm. Nesovic also became an emergency medical technician at the age of 18.
She enrolled in MSU and graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Since then she has worked in clinical settings, mainly on a cardiovascular unit at Billings Clinic, where she spent much of her time working with elderly people.
Nesovic chose to enroll in MSU’s doctoral program because she thought it would give her an opportunity to better serve the community and improve care for geriatric people.
“With the doctoral-level training, there will be opportunities to look at quality improvements, such as how can we make certain systems more efficient,” she said. “We can also be involved more in research, and in helping develop evidence-based programs for our patients.”
Cole Whitmoyer said he was drawn to nursing and to MSU’s doctoral program because he wants to help people. Whitmoyer, who is a former football player at Carroll College, said success in both nursing and sports requires good team collaboration.
“In nursing, we collaborate with so many other professionals,” he said. “That’s what I really like about it. Being a nurse practitioner will give me the opportunity to help more people and have more power to help those people.”
Whitmoyer, who currently lives in Laurel, plans to work as a nurse practitioner in the area.
Along with their four other classmates, Show, Nesovic, Havens and Whitmoyer all will graduate from MSU with doctor of nursing practice degrees on Saturday, May 7.
“We are so very proud of our (doctor of nursing practice) students and know that they will make an immense difference wherever their paths may lead,” Sofie said.
Contact: Helen Melland, dean, MSU College of Nursing, (406) 994-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org