November 29, 2004


MSU Upper Division nursing student Tracy Cashman of Belgrade had a willing patient at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in Bill Ewasiuk Oct.29, 2004. Photo by Carol Flaherty
Upper division nursing education has come to Bozeman, and it's given a boost to students, faculty, and local and state health care communities say those involved.

"It means I don't have to leave my husband and my house and go rent somewhere," says Tracy Cashman, a junior nursing student at Montana State University now taking upper division courses administered through Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.

For Montana State University nursing faculty in Bozeman, it means being able to work with students through all levels of the nursing curriculum.

It offers Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and several other medical facilities the opportunity to train eager nursing students and potential employees of the hospital.

And for Montana, it means the MSU baccalaureate nursing program will graduate an additional 16 nurses in 2006, bringing the total to 186 nurses each year. MSU's College of Nursing in Bozeman began in 1937, but upper division clinical experiences have always been elsewhere. Now nursing students have full lower and upper level classes in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Missoula and Kalispell.

This multiple-win situation wouldn't have been possible without the financial assistance of Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and the acceptance of the program by community-based medical services, says Deb Kern, director of MSU's Bozeman campus nursing program. Bozeman Deaconess provided $35,000 to initiate the program. The university came to the plate, too, with the University Planning, Budget and Analysis Committee acknowledging the importance of the program by allocating permanent funding even amidst tight budgets.

"This is important for the Bozeman workforce, said Susan Kerschen, Bozeman Deaconess Vice President of Patient Services. We will have a core group of nurses we ve already worked with to choose from as we expand staff. We've had the support of the hospital board, hospital administration, nursing staff and medical staff to accomplish this."

For nursing students, staying in Bozeman may mean saving money by not having to leave home, or it may simply minimize the disruption of moving to a new place. Kahrin Phillips, an MSU junior, faced a situation similar to Cashman's. "I'm married and my husband's business as a stonemason is established here. Staying here was pretty important."

Libby Archibald, a junior transfer to Bozeman via Missoula and Helena, said the opportunity allows her to stay where she had found "an amazing group of friends and awesome fellowship."

Overall, the excitement of working in nursing rather than reading about it is adding to the education, says Archibald. "In some majors, your goal is to eventually step out and be what it is you're training for. But when your class setting lets you help people and do things that you would when you become a professional, it makes it that much easier to be a student. It makes me want to excel as a nursing student."

It takes an exceptional student to be accepted into the nursing program. In fact, for the 2004-2005 school year, 410 people applied for the 168 student slots available.

"It's not easy," says Phillips who already had graduated with a biomedical sciences degree before returning to study nursing. "But I think nursing will be very rewarding."

Archibald described the usual hospital learning process. "We go in the night before and do a complete assessment of the patient. We research their pathophysiology, look up all of their drugs, and then we go in the next day and administer the drugs (under supervision). It's very important to do it right."

While all of this helps the students, "it's just as good for us as faculty to be able to see and teach the students at all levels of their education," says Kern. "It's also good for the community. It strengthens the health care community because the students bring a whole new perspective and level of excitement."

Bozeman Deaconess Hospital has created nursing rotations on its medical-surgical floors. Other health care organizations have created nursing rotations, including the Gallatin Community Clinic and Gallatin County Health Department as well as private medical offices throughout the valley.

Contact: Deb Kern (406) 994-2781, Elizabeth Nichols (406) 994-3784, Susan Kerschen (406) 585-5000

By Carol Flaherty, MSU News Service - November 29, 2004