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SMC nursing program under review

Megan O'Neil | Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Saint Mary’s nursing faculty and local health care professionals met in a public forum Tuesday afternoon to discuss the College’s nursing department as part of a re-accreditation process for the program.

The Saint Mary’s nursing program is currently under review by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), one of two national bodies that accredit nursing schools.

The department compiled an extensive self-study of the program according to the commission’s guidelines and submitted it in December. The next step of the process, which is going on this week, is a three-day evaluation by NLNAC representatives.

The representatives will meet with faculty and students, evaluate resources and teaching techniques and visit clinical sites where students work.

“We go over [the report] a few times,” said Ann McGinn, a nursing professor at Gynnedd-Mercy College and one of two evaluators on campus. “And then what we are here for is to verify … the info in that report.”

McGinn and fellow evaluator Peggy Hawkins, a professor at the College of Saint Mary’s in Omaha, Neb., spoke briefly about visiting Saint Mary’s student nurses at their clinical sites Tuesday and invited each audience member to share something about the program.

Most of the two dozen people in attendance were themselves nurses who had worked with the College’s nursing department or with nursing students out in the field.

Jane Mason, vice president for patient care at Our Lady of Peace Hospital in South Bend, expressed both admiration for the quality of the program and concern with the aging of current nurses in the United States.

“I think it is a quality program,” Mason said. “And I think as a public person, and as a nurse who is hoping to retire someday, I have a vested interest in the nurses of tomorrow.”

Community member Andrea Johnson recounted the care she received from Saint Mary’s student nurses when she was hospitalized.

“They were efficient, they were kind,” Johnson said. “It really helped me, and I was able to go back and tell my doctor, and he was able to say something about it.”

When asked how the Saint Mary’s nursing program compared to those at other colleges and universities, McGinn said the evaluators were still compiling information and it was too early to say.

“We have to go back and put it all together,” she said. “Every school has similarities and every school has differences, so we’re not really comparing schools. We are comparing [the program] to the guidelines. So I can’t really answer your question.”

There are currently 45 intended nursing majors in first year studies and 93 sophomore, junior and senior nursing majors. The College also offers an accelerated program of studies in the field for students who already have an undergraduate degree.

Professor Linda Zoeller chaired the self-study committee, which spent a little over a year evaluating the Saint Mary’s nursing program and writing the 160-page report.

In a separate interview, Zoeller said the nursing program at the College dates back to the 1930s and was one of the first to be asked to help the war effort during World War II.

The nursing program was shut down in the late 1950s but reopened in the fall of 1975.

Zoeller said the program was first accredited by the NLNAC in 1979 and has always received the highest accreditation length – eight years. She expects the length this time to be no different.

“I think we will be fine,” Zoeller said. “We have an excellent program. One way you can tell how good a program is, is how its students are doing on the State Board [nursing exams].”

According to Zoeller, only one student in the accelerated nursing program at the College has failed the exams in 10 years. In the traditional four-year program, the lowest percentage of students to pass in the past five years was 92 percent.