By Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., President, AJCU
Ignatius and his first followers made a point of visiting those in hospitals. It was part of a Jesuit’s formation, and part of a Christian’s mission to the suffering. Many a Jesuit, in this time before the discovery of bacteria and antibiotics, lost his life in this ministry to the sick.
During the 20th century, as the practice of medicine and the role of the nurse became scientific, many American Jesuit colleges and universities found a special complementarity in training medical professionals, while helping these same students to understand that their presence to the sick could be an embodiment of Christ’s love. Over the years, Jesuit programs of nursing, physical and occupational therapy, and medicine have become commonplace.
In my many years as an administrator, I’ve been impressed again and again by people I meet for the first time who say, “There’s something special about your school’s nurses who took care of my mother in the hospital” or, “the doctor from your medical school who spoke with us in the emergency room had a sense of our pain that I just wasn’t expecting, as he explained with compassion our child’s injuries after a car accident.”
I think that what goes on in our programs is more than just imparting a high quality of professional knowledge, and more than just developing a well-trained bedside manner. Instead, it’s expertise expressed with compassion, a sense of mission that turns professionalism into the vocation of being Christ to someone in need.
I’m delighted that this issue of Connections features some of the programs in medical education at our schools. It’s a helpful reminder that real Jesuit education offers not just information but transformation, and provides a preparation which goes beyond competence to commitment: the commitment of being a stand-in for Christ to others.
Please note: In light of the ongoing fluctuating situation on Capitol Hill, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization on Jesuit colleges and universities, and the tax bill reconciliation process in the January 2018 issue of Connections. Meanwhile, regular updates of the negotiations, as we learn of them, are being passed along to each AJCU member institution’s representative for federal relations.
By Susan Gennaro, RN, Ph.D., FAAN; Nancy DeBasio, RN, Ph.D., FAAN; & Terran Mathers, RN, DNS
The Jesuit Conference of Nursing Programs (JCNP) consists of 20 Jesuit colleges and universities with nursing programs, under the umbrella of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). The mission of the JCNP is to be a “collaborative and supportive consortium that promotes a Catholic, Jesuit nursing identity to advance nursing education and improve health,” while its vision is to “be a discerning voice for social justice and excellence in health care” (JCNP Strategic Plan, 2012-2014).
The Conference began informally through a gathering of Jesuit nursing deans in 1992 (nursing deans regularly attend meetings hosted by the National League for Nursing and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing). However, it wasn’t until 1994 when the organization, then known as the AJCU Conference of Nursing Programs, developed the first bylaws and became formalized. (With the third set of bylaws in 2012, the name was changed to JCNP.)
Since their formal establishment, the Jesuit deans have developed several documents including a SWOT Analysis of Distributive Learning (October 2006), a Jesuit Consortium for DNP Programs (March 2010), and a Guide to Faculty Networking at Conferences (November 2012). Three retreats have been held over the years, two aimed at strategic planning, (June 2009; August 2011) and another on Discernment: Ignatian Spirituality (June 2014). These have helped to keep the Jesuit deans focused on their mission and vision in pursuit of three main objectives: Establish the JCNP Brand, Sustain an Effective Collaborative Organization, and Advance Innovative Educational Opportunities and Strategic Partnerships.
The common mission and values shared by the deans of Jesuit nursing programs have enabled us to have an immediate support network, as we respond to the many challenges that face both nursing and higher education today. When the deans meet twice every year, there is never a shortage of important topics to discuss as to how we, as Catholic and Jesuit institutions, can best live out our mission. Whether it is questions on justice or autonomy, staffing models for new kinds of educational practices, appropriate informed consent from vulnerable populations, or other wide ranging concerns, the leaders of our nursing programs are always eager to discuss how we can best proceed.
Although the deans and associate deans / directors meet together for dinner informally at one of our national Fall meetings, we also meet, along with other Jesuit faculty, at specialty conferences for Baccalaureate or Masters or DNP education at other times of the year. We feel that all who are involved in Jesuit nursing education should have an opportunity to voice opinions and concerns. Sometimes these conversations happen as we work at our home institutions through blast emails; as we sit across the table from each other at in-person national conferences; at JCNP meetings; through discussions at a conference reception or dinner; and sometimes through special retreats,
At a time when there is a shortage of nursing faculty in our nation, it has been a tangible advantage that Jesuit deans can share best practices in terms of recruitment and retention, as well as faculty workloads and salaries, and the many other challenges we currently face. This support is especially helpful to new deans who are just stepping into their role and immediately benefit from the support of a cadre of like-minded individuals who are experienced and very interested in lending a helping hand. The networking and support is invaluable and constant as a fellow Jesuit dean or associate dean is just an e-mail or phone call away. Perhaps this high level of support helps to explain why a number of our members have stepped up to leadership roles in higher education, including presidents and provosts. Over the years, many of our members have also served as leaders of such national organizations as AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) and CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education).
Another opportunity that we have as Jesuit deans is through our networking and attendance at meetings with the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and with leaders of other Catholic schools. It is extremely helpful to hear about best practices that are working for other institutions, e.g. how to expand service experiences for our students while assuring that the community is well served. It is also valuable for learning about regional differences in national trends, and for seeing how our institutions fit into the broader scheme of national Catholic nursing education. Sometimes we become so wrapped up with the problems and challenges in our own particular area that we don’t realize how these challenges differ depending on the geographic region where we live and work.
The opportunity to have a national collaborative, not competitive, group of nurse leaders has been vital in helping each of us as deans to strive for the Magis. In this season of gratitude, we are very thankful to have the support and help of our fellow deans and the AJCU.
Dr. Susan Gennaro has served as Dean and Professor of the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College since 2008. Dr. Nancy DeBasio, who provided the historical information for this article, was President and Dean of the Research College of Nursing at Rockhurst University from 1992 – 2017. Dr. Terran Mathers has served as Chair of the Division of Nursing at Spring Hill College since 2011, and as President of JCNP from 2016-2018.
By Amelia Skimin, Communications Specialist, University of Detroit Mercy
If you ask Christine Pacini, the heart of her successes in life is her Catholic education.
“I have been grounded in the Jesuit and Mercy traditions,” she says. “I’m profoundly grateful for how I’ve been educated.”
After attending Catholic schools in her formative years, the Jesuit education offered by the University of Detroit (now the University of Detroit Mercy, after a merger with Mercy College of Detroit) seemed like a natural fit when it came time to select a college.
“U of D was a school that really allowed working class people to send their kids for a values-based education that they could afford,” she explains.
When she enrolled in Fall 1967, she had no idea what role the University would come to play in her life, or that she would spend roughly 25 years of her career there, eventually becoming dean of the College of Health Professions and McAuley School of Nursing. In fact, she didn’t know her career would involve nursing at all.
At the time, she wanted to become a teacher. With that goal in mind, she majored in history, minored in political science and earned a secondary teaching certificate, all in just three and a half years, while enjoying the robust, vibrant campus life available to students at the time – even commuters like her.
But Pacini’s plans began to shift when she was unable to find a teaching job. “My dad told me to go into nursing,” she recalls. “He said, ‘go into nursing, you’ll find a job.’“
Nursing jobs may have been plentiful at the time, but finding a program that would accept her with a Bachelor’s degree proved difficult. “Truly, the only program that would have a conversation with me was Mercy College of Detroit,” she says.
Thanks in large part to the school’s program director, Noreen O’Neil, Pacini was accepted into a cohort of eight students, each of whom already had degrees or were transferring to the program. She then began an accelerated track to a nursing degree.
But it wasn’t the typical route, and there were some bumps in the road. During one semester, Pacini took classes at four different schools to get the science credits that she needed. But it worked, and after three years, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her first job was at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital (now part of the Detroit Medical Center), and she loved it.
It wasn’t just that job that she loved, though. It was the field. “I love nursing,” she explains. “There’s not a job I’ve had in nursing that I haven’t enjoyed.”
That passion inspired her to teach others who wanted to enter the profession. After earning her Master’s degree, she joined the faculty at Mercy College. She was there for nearly a decade before she was recruited to a nursing executive position at a Detroit-area hospital. But after a few years, she felt called back to teaching, completed her Ph.D., and returned to the classroom, this time at the University of Detroit Mercy, formed when her two undergraduate alma maters incorporated, becoming one institution in 1990. She returned just as she was finishing her doctorate.
She served in numerous roles – faculty member, assistant dean, associate dean – but was recruited away again, in 2003, this time to a clinical practice executive position at Indiana University Health System, where she had the opportunity to work with her professional heroes. From there, she went to the University of Michigan Health System, then later to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, but was drawn back to Michigan seven years later, back to the University – and the values – that felt like home.
“I enjoy the freedom to be obvious and transparent about the values we reflect,” she says. “We can get energized over social justice and things that matter.”
Her final return was in the role of dean, which she took on in February 2010. The school was in a state of transition, and Pacini was the fourth dean in just two years. When she arrived, she brought some much-needed stability and predictability. She explains, “I’ve always said I’m not the best dean in the cadre of deans, but I think I was the right dean for this organization at the time.”
Under Pacini’s tenure, the school’s infrastructure was reorganized and strengthened. The renowned Physician Assistant (PA) program was approved to double in size. The College’s building underwent a major expansion to accommodate the increase in students and all of the programs became fully accredited, or, in the case of several new programs, began the process to achieve accreditation. Many are now nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report, including the Physician’s Assistant program (#81), Nurse Anesthesia (#10), Master of Science in Nursing (#136) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (#139).
There are other, less tangible accomplishments, too, like the energy of the faculty, many of whom she brought on board.
But all good things must come to an end, and so in October, Pacini stepped down from her position. She will stay on in a consultant role through the end of the fall semester to help the new dean, Neal Rosenburg, get acclimated, before taking a sabbatical to travel and write. And when the new school year rolls around, she will return once again to one of her first loves: teaching.
By Rick Davis, Director of Communications, Creighton University
With a tradition of excellence in health care education dating back to 1892 – combined with a legacy of groundbreaking research and a history of providing cutting-edge, compassionate patient care – Creighton University is extending its reach as a health care leader in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition and pioneering a new model of collaborative care.
In September, Creighton and several major health care providers in Arizona announced a new alliance aimed at addressing the region’s critical need for more physicians and other health care providers.
Through the newly established Creighton University Arizona Health Education Alliance, Creighton will oversee and broaden medical education programs at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Maricopa Integrated Health System (MIHS), and District Medical Group in Phoenix.
“This is an exciting partnership that brings together a university recognized for providing outstanding training for students in the health sciences with health care providers known for their impressive history of caring for members of the greater Phoenix community,” said Creighton’s president, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J.
The partnership was officially launched on September 1. The alliance will develop new academic and clinical education programs in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Currently, Arizona ranks 32nd in the nation for the number of active medical doctors per 100,000 people. As the alliance matures, officials say that the goal is to expand training opportunities in residencies, fellowships and spots for medical students. It is presumed that such an expansion would increase the likelihood that more physicians and other health care professionals who have studied in Arizona will then remain and practice in the state.
In January 2018, Creighton University’s College of Nursing will begin offering its accelerated nursing program with Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Students will be able to complete the program in 12 months, providing a dramatically expedited pathway toward a degree and a career.
“Like many regions across the country, Arizona is experiencing a significant shortage in nursing and other health professions,” said Catherine Todero, dean of Creighton’s College of Nursing. “We are excited about the opportunity to expand our proven programs into the Valley and help address this important need, while providing an opportunity for a bright future for the students who will receive their degrees from Creighton University.”
Creighton has been an academic mainstay in Phoenix for more than a decade, sending medical students to St. Joseph’s for rotations. That relationship expanded significantly in 2009 when a Creighton campus for third- and fourth-year medical students was established at the Phoenix hospital. As the only Catholic medical school campus west of Omaha, it is home to almost 100 Creighton medical students.
In the Jesuit tradition of reaching out to the poor and marginalized, Creighton students in Phoenix, like those in Omaha (where Creighton’s main campus is located), are active in service to their community. Some have started traveling to Mexico every other month to provide volunteer care at a health clinic established by two Creighton alumni, and some have worked with St. Joseph’s faculty to open a student-run clinic at the St. Vincent DePaul center in Phoenix, providing volunteer care under the guidance of attending physicians.
In addition to Creighton’s expanded academic health care presence in Phoenix, the University recently joined with its primary clinical partner in Omaha, CHI Health, to create a one-of-a-kind, dual-campus academic medical center. Creighton ceremoniously opened its University Campus in January 2017, followed by a celebration for the opening of its campus at Omaha’s Bergan Mercy Medical Center in May. In August, Creighton and CHI Health were honored with one of three national awards distinguishing institutions committed to and promoting a collaborative care model. Creighton and CHI received honorable mention for the Nexus Award, presented by the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, along with fellow Jesuit institution, Saint Louis University.
The establishment of the two campuses followed the sale of Creighton’s former academic medical center at 30th and California streets. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for University Campus, Creighton School of Medicine Dean Robert “Bo” Dunlay, M.D. addressed the exciting opportunities for cutting-edge collaborative care at the new facility.
“In partnership with our neighbors, this is where we will design and test innovative approaches to advancing wellness and preventing illness,” Dunlay said. “Creighton University and CHI Health will be anchored here serving this community for many years to come.”
Creighton is establishing itself as a leader in collaborative care, both at its campuses in Omaha and in Phoenix. Joy Doll, executive director of Creighton’s Center for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (CIPER), said this approach represents the future of clinical care and is an extension of Creighton’s classroom teaching.
Doll noted that the team-based model is in line with changes coming in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, which will focus less on fee for service and more on patient outcomes. For patients, this means more holistic care – in which, for instance, they might see a nurse, physician, pharmacist and psychologist all in one visit. Doll said, “Creighton is on the leading edge nationally in offering our students in the health sciences — dentistry, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy and physical therapy, along with a developing physician’s assistant program — opportunities for collaborative care education and practice in the clinical setting.”
By Mary Joan Hahn, Director of Community & Public Relations, Gonzaga University
Fall 2017 cohort of medical students entering the University of Washington – Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership
A Gonzaga nursing student in action
Poverty Simulation Lab at Gonzaga University
A Gonzaga medical student receives her coat at the University’s “white coat” ceremony
Nursing skills lab at Gonzaga University
Partnership with University of Washington Brings Medical Education to Gonzaga’s Campus
Walking across the Gonzaga University campus in Spokane, WA, his mind overflowing after several hours of studying, first-year medical student Justin Thompson reflects upon the two crosses atop St. Aloysius Church.
“Taking classes at Gonzaga is special,” Thompson said. “It reminds me of the importance of being part of something greater than myself.”
Thompson is among 120 first- and second-year medical students benefiting from the Regional Health Partnership formed between Gonzaga University (GU) and the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) in February 2016 to help meet the state’s physician shortage, and to train future physicians for lives of leadership and service. Thirty-one UW MEDEX students are pursuing physician assistant degrees on GU’s campus as well.
Gonzaga is the first private university to join UWSOM’s five-state medical education network. Spokane medical students spend the first 18 months of their training on GU’s campus before embarking on clinical training throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – the states served by UWSOM, known collectively as WWAMI.
For more than two decades, UWSOM has held the No. 1 ranking in the nation for Primary Care, Family Medicine and Rural Medicine education; the collaboration with GU adds to that academic excellence. Faculty who teach medical and MEDEX students represent a mix of UW and Gonzaga professors, local practicing physicians and medical professionals.
“The GU community welcomed us with open arms, and has been integral to helping us establish key partnerships in Spokane that reflect our shared values, and the greater good we both serve,” said Darryl Potyk, M.D., UWSOM Associate Dean for Eastern Washington and Chief of Medical Education for the partnership. “Together, we are not only educating the next generation of health professionals, we are ensuring the health and well-being of our region, and beyond.”
Shared projects capitalize on the values embodied in GU’s Jesuit heritage:
- GU sociology professors and UWSOM faculty are launching a joint study to look at the healthcare needs of food bank recipients. Students are assisting with the research.
- GU’s Organizational Leadership Program is working with UWSOM to develop a “Leadership Pathway” to present instruction on management skills required of students to become good doctors, and on how to become compassionate community servants.
- GU’s Multicultural Unity Education Center conducted a diversity workshop that earned a WWAMI Pro Award for Professionalism.
- GU’s Center for Cura Personalis is developing brown bag sessions to help medical students with stress, mindfulness and the emotional demands of healthcare.
- The Center for Community Engagement has helped to connect medical students with local service learning opportunities.
“Although we have different educational cultures, one public university and one private, we share a common goal of providing a rich and varied educational experience for our students,” said Gonzaga President Dr. Thayne M. McCulloh.
Thompson, who serves as president of the medical student association, notes the benefits that he has received from the melding of a public university with the qualities of a private Jesuit university. He believes they will make him a better doctor someday.
“What I appreciate most is that Gonzaga shares our values and goals to become better-rounded people,” he said. “Gonzaga’s commitment to the dignity of the human person, and their solidarity with the poor and vulnerable remind me of why I want to be a doctor—to meet patients as they are, to bear witness to their story, and to heal with both medicine and understanding.”
Gonzaga Nursing Programs Grounded in Care, Compassion & Community
This fall, 65 undergraduate nursing students at GU were asked to consider what their lives would be like if they were elderly living on small Social Security checks, members of the so-called “working poor,” or part of a large family that depended upon food stamps.
“The goal of our poverty simulations class is to better understand the stress and strains [that our] patients endure,” said Susan Boysen, GU professor of Nursing. “And it reflects the Jesuit values of servant leadership, social justice and community here at GU.”
Gonzaga’s nursing programs stretch back decades – they fill a growing and critical need in Spokane and rural communities throughout the region, and, as one of the first online programs in the West, far beyond. In 2013, GU’s Nursing Department, along with the Departments of Human Physiology and Nurse Anesthesia came together to become the new School of Nursing and Human Physiology. The recently revised nursing curriculum prepares BSN students to care for an aging population and to work within the rapidly changing health care environment.
Gonzaga offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) plus online courses that lead to the following degrees: Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing (RN to MSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Second Master’s Degree, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice. The Bachelor’s, Master’s, and DNP programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and the nurse anesthesia program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education programs (COA). At just a few years old, GU’s innovative nurse anesthesia doctoral program, co-sponsored with Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, focuses on clinical anesthesia and leadership.
Many of GU’s faculty continue to work in health care, providing students with insight into the real-life challenges faced by nurses every day. And all students receive the benefit of Jesuit teachings. For example, students enrolled in nurse practitioner practicum courses come to campus once per semester for an intensive weekend that includes an evaluation of diagnostic reasoning skills using patient scenarios, as well as an orientation to Jesuit values, tenets of social justice, and the role and value of reflection in their practice.
Practicum experiences for all students purposefully address vulnerable populations and those who lack access to high-quality care. BSN students work in hospice, Red Cross and tribal clinics, and community health centers. Students are also challenged to confront their own personal biases or lack of knowledge. For example, a student who may lack experience with or exposure to the poor may be assigned to work in a homeless clinic.
“This is the kind of experience that helps students understand what they are bringing to the profession as individuals,” said Jeffrey Ramirez, chair of Nursing. “Exercises in forgiveness, lessons in learning not to judge and how to accept people as they are, help to imbue a Jesuit ethos in all students.”
Lin Murphy, interim dean of Nursing, concurred. “Our vision is to transform nurses and nursing. We believe that nurses care for the whole person and that we play an essential role in our community’s overall health and well-being.”
All photos by Gonzaga University.
By Kathy Lee, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Health Programs, John Carroll University
John Carroll University’s (JCU) Pre-Health Professions Program is grounded in Cura Personalis, a Latin phrase that translates as “care for the entire person.” This is one of the cornerstones of the Jesuit educational philosophy and is reflected in the work that is done in the Pre-Health Office with the expectation that students will carry those values forward into their healthcare careers.
Cura Personalis denotes individualized attention to the needs of each person and respect for the identity and circumstances of each individual. An undergraduate education at John Carroll not only provides students with the academic skills to succeed, but also prepares them to interact effectively with people from diverse backgrounds in order to develop a medical career of compassionate care for others.
The Office of Pre-Health Professions is staffed by the Assistant Dean for Health Professions, a dedicated pre-health advisor who provides support, guidance and information to all students interested in pursuing healthcare careers. In addition, there is a Physician-in-Residence; a medical doctor who helps advise and prepare students for successful healthcare careers.
The Pre-Health Office at JCU assists students from all majors and at all stages of their undergraduate careers by providing them with impactful experiences and exercises that promote career discernment and preparation for a health care career. We provide academic support in the form of curriculum advising, academic planning, and assistance with standardized test preparation. The Pre-Health Office works closely with JCU faculty who lead by example; they are student-centered teachers and mentors for our future physicians, dentists and allied health care providers. Faculty in many departments teach interdisciplinary courses, such as Poverty and Disease, which provides students with social and societal perspectives on health care issues. Primary Healthcare Preparation, taught by our Physician-in-Residence, introduces students to the changing face of medicine in the 21st century while exploring contemporary medical education and practice. Many students work in faculty research labs on campus and then utilize those skills in hospitals and other educational institutions in the greater Cleveland region. For example, JCU has a structured program with the Cleveland Clinic for students to complete full-time summer research internships.
In addition to strong academic preparation, students are given insight and direction through experiential learning that promotes personal growth and develops the skills needed for delivery of compassionate care. Working with the Center for Service and Social Action and Office of Campus Ministry, the Pre-Health Office coordinates opportunities for students to engage in community service and volunteer activities, both on and off campus. This includes volunteer work in local hospitals, hospice facilities, medical offices, and participation in medical immersion trips. Students are encouraged to participate in non-medical volunteer activities as well; many choose to serve as tutors and mentors to disadvantaged youth in the surrounding communities. The Pre-Health Office also stresses the importance of having subsequent reflection on these experiences.
John Carroll offers a number of other unique opportunities for students. For example, many choose to serve with the student-staffed Emergency Medical Services (JCU EMS), a group established in 2002 by students, in response to the preventable death of a peer. Students serving with JCU EMS must have Emergency Medical Technician-Basic or Emergency Medical Responder training and certification, and are under the direction of a medical doctor. Participants develop leadership skills and clinical proficiencies, including technical procedures and patient care.
The Pre-Health Professions Program provides students with career exploration beginning in their freshman year. For example, the program sponsors healthcare forums featuring professionals in medicine, dentistry, and allied health careers, many of whom are JCU alumni who also sponsor our students for internships. In addition, the Pre-Health Office also hosts admissions representatives from our target medical and dental schools, and other professional healthcare programs.
To that end, John Carroll has established affiliation programs with schools that have similar missions. We currently have formalized dual admission agreements with two medical schools: Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) and Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM). Through these agreements, students can earn reserved seats in medical, dental, or pharmacy school as seniors in high school or as sophomores in college. For students interested in other fields, we have partnered with the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), The Breen School of Nursing at Ursuline College, and an anesthetist program with CWRU’s Master of Science in Anesthesia Program.
At John Carroll, our goal is to provide students with an excellent science foundation and a wealth of meaningful experiences that will result in the development of exceptional health care professionals who value the “entire person.”
Photos courtesy of John Carroll University. Please click here to learn more about Margaret Farrar, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at John Carroll.
By Laura Merisalo, on behalf of Marquette University
Kelly Brush knows that some of the most important learning in her doctor of physical therapy program takes place far beyond the classroom or late-night study sessions in the library.
Brush, now in her fifth year of the six-year program at Marquette University, is president of the Adaptive Abilities Club, which brings students together to help local residents with disabilities rock climb, water-ski, downhill ski, scuba dive, fish, cycle and play sports such as rugby, basketball and sled hockey. During the club’s first outdoor climb this year, people confined to wheelchairs scaled cliffs at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, WI.
The origins of the club are organic. Dr. Tina Stoeckmann, a clinical associate professor of physical therapy, who serves as the club’s faculty adviser, says that some of her students learned of her volunteer work with adaptive abilities organizations a few years ago and wanted to get involved. She invited those who expressed interest to local events, and their interest ballooned into the club. “Everyone goes home happy, you’re re-energized when you’re done, and I think that’s what pulls people in,” Stoeckmann says.
The Adaptive Abilities Club is open to all Marquette students, not just those in the physical therapy program. It differs from other student clubs, Stoeckmann says, as it doesn’t sponsor events but supports outside organizations. Among them are Adaptive Adventures and Diveheart, a Chicago-based adaptive scuba organization that expanded its events to Milwaukee in 2016, after learning about the club.
“This was their baby. They wrote the proposal. They got the pool. And they also provided deck help,” says Sarah Repka, an adaptive scuba instructor affiliated with Diveheart. “The Adaptive Abilities Club wrote the grant to pay for us to have three hours in the water [in Marquette’s pools]. It’s nice to be around dedicated, good people.”
Marquette’s physical therapy program is tough — both to get into, and to succeed in. The program has had as many as 1,600 applicants for its 65 slots, and the average ACT score is 30.6. Once in the program, students are in class for about 24 hours a week, and classes with labs often have written and oral exams, which can translate to as many as nine final exams a semester.
Brush and others, however, don’t see the club as extra work. They say it is fun, stress relieving and invigorating. “To get off campus, to help people get to the top of that rock-climbing wall…I come back just feeling rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to learn more,” Brush says. “I know there are people out there who really need me.”
That club members are changing lives through their volunteer efforts, however, isn’t something they dwell on. Rather, what seems to resonate most is how their involvement is changing them.
Zach Hodgson’s passion for skiing drew him to the club as a sophomore. “I just really wanted to share that passion with the population that we work with.”
It was only a matter of time before he started volunteering at the club’s rock-climbing events twice a month at Adventure Rock in Brookfield, WI, and fishing events in the summer.
Hodgson will graduate in May with a career goal different than the dream job he initially envisioned. His original plan was to pair his passion for skiing with a career that focused on helping skiers who were injured or disabled get back on the slopes.
Today, because of his experiences with the club and, particularly, with Abigail and Cate Johnson — two girls whose wheelchairs don’t keep them from rock climbing, playing soccer and other sports — Hodgson has other plans.
Abigail, 17, and Cate, 14, are both nonverbal and have undiagnosed physical and developmental disabilities. But they communicate with Hodgson just fine.
“I know the little microtones of their voices,” Hodgson says. “Everyone has their own special form of communication, and if you can learn that, you can really enhance [your] physical therapy practice.”
Cate and Abigail’s parents, Mike and Crystal, say that Hodgson and other Marquette students add brilliance to their daughters’ lives. “When [our daughters] see the energy that these Marquette students bring, it lights up their world,” Crystal says.
The club, Mike notes, embodies the Marquette motto: Be the difference. “That kind of activity, that’s a difference-maker, when they’re at Marquette and beyond,” he says.
Hodgson credits the Johnson family with making a difference in his life too. He now plans to focus his physical therapy practice on pediatrics. “Skiing will always be a part of my life, but it will not play as much of a role in my physical therapy direction,” Hodgson says. “I really want to work with families or patients who have developmental disabilities that really need that continuum of care throughout their lives, as well as the support and understanding that these children can go out and have normal lives.”
The club is in its third year and swiftly growing, says senior Megan Rapacz, who joined as a freshman and now serves as vice president. The club’s email list includes nearly 140 students, roughly 80 of whom are active volunteers. In its second year, the club earned the Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J. Spirit of Marquette Award [named for Marquette’s former president].
Rapacz’s experience with the club has helped to shape her future plans. Her goal is to open a day care center for children with disabilities and able-bodied children, in an effort to promote acceptance of diversity in physical abilities at an early age.
“You can learn about empathy, and learn the words, but to actually do it is totally different,” Rapacz says. “I’m making someone else’s life more fun.”
Brush also plans to pursue a different path because of the club. She grew up as a competitive Scottish dancer and had plenty of physical therapy experience as an injured athlete. That experience drew her into Marquette’s program, which she thought would lead her to working with fellow dancers.
Then, she joined the Adaptive Abilities Club. “I fell in love with it after the first time,” Brush says. “To see that anything is possible has definitely changed me.”
Brush now has her eye on neurologic physical therapy. “PT is so much more than helping athletes,” she says. “It is helping to give back self-dignity and basic life skills. Physical therapy helps people live their lives.”
By Luke Graham, Writer / Editor for Regis University
When Mercy Bowen thought about a career in nursing, many concerns crossed her mind.
Bowen wanted to stay close to her home in Brush, Colorado — about 90 miles east of Denver — but knew that the options for earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) were limited.
Then she heard about an Associate degree program at nearby Morgan Community College that piqued her interest.
Morgan Community College, which had long offered an Associate degree in nursing, had recently partnered with Regis University to offer a dual enrollment program for nurses. It was in part a reaction to the Institute of Medicine’s report that by 2020, 80 percent of nurses would need at least a Bachelor’s degree. The dual enrollment program allows students to begin obtaining an accelerated BSN degree from Regis during their fourth semester at Morgan.
“Timing was perfect,” Bowen said. “I knew I could get my BSN and start my job in a year. When you get your BSN from Regis, it’s an eye-catching thing. I knew I’d get more consideration and have more options from employers.”
Bowen was part of the first cohort to graduate from the dual enrollment program in March. Better yet, she found a job right away at Colorado Plains Medical Center in Fort Morgan, allowing her to serve her own community.
“I wanted to stay here and take care of my community,” she said. “Often rural communities are understaffed and they really have limited resources.”
A Fast-Developing Partnership
Karen Pennington, interim dean of nursing at Regis, had seen the Institute of Medicine’s report and wondered what Regis could do to help meet the demand of producing more quality nurses with BSN degrees.
Just as vital for Pennington was placing well-rounded nurses in rural communities across Colorado, where the need for them, as well as other medical professionals, remains dire.
Pennington knew that if she convinced students from rural communities to attend university classes in Denver, they may never leave the city and return to their home communities. After hearing from a Regis faculty member who served on the Morgan advisory board, Pennington learned that the community college was looking for many of the same solutions.
“We asked what they wanted and needed,” Pennington said. “They told us what they wanted and what they envisioned. Then I said ‘we can do this.’”
The two partner schools put together a plan: Nursing students may enroll for their Associate degrees at Morgan and choose the dual enrollment option with Regis. If they choose to do so, students may begin taking classes with Regis during their fourth semester.
From there, classes are done in accelerated five-week blocks to allow the students to finish in a year. And a unique aspect of the program allows Regis professors to teach at Morgan during the first and last classes.
“Condensing it to five weeks — that was pretty outside the box,” said Kim Ewertz, the director of nursing education at Morgan. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I think we have a great partnership. There is a willingness to say ‘let’s try something new.’ Everybody is on the same page.”
Serving Multiple Roles
With nearly 20 nurses going through the first two cohorts, the results have been strong. Ewertz said that of a cohort of 12 nurses, 10 took jobs in the Morgan County service area, which covers more than 10,000 square miles and serves a wide rural community. That the program is getting highly trained nurses into the places that most need them is “huge for us,” said Ewertz.
Students like Bowen say that a nursing career in a rural community is demanding. But after completing the Regis program, Bowen said that she felt more than prepared — especially after taking a course that taught her how to serve the whole person while working with a variety of populations. It wasn’t what she thought nursing school would be about, but it was the class that now serves her the most.
“We learned how to help underserved, diverse and unique populations,” she said. “We learned how to understand that different people need different things.”
That’s what Pennington likes to hear. Part of Regis’ goal for the program was getting nurses to where they are needed most, and its early success has led to conversations with other community colleges across Colorado.
“The [desire] for education is there,” said Pennington. “It’s a benefit to us to provide excellent programs…The areas we’re targeting have the highest need and least amount of resources. That’s our mission.”