The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 25, 2013

UPJ milestone: School to graduate its first nursing class

Randy Griffith

JOHNSTOWN — Richland High School graduate Nathan Adam couldn’t find his niche in another college, so he was thrilled to hear about a new four-year nursing program in his own backyard.

“I know Pitt is well known, and you get the same education here,” Adam said at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

On Saturday, Adam will be among the first 22 graduates of Pitt-Johnstown’s new bachelor’s degree nursing program.

The graduation marks a milestone for leaders at the university and in the local medical community who have been developing the program over the past six years, Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar said.

“This was a broad-based effort,” Spectar said. “We are very grateful for the support we have received from the Greater Johnstown region.”

The program was launched in 2009 in response to the increasing need for nurses in rural Pennsylvania, Spectar added.

University leaders were exploring options to increase the number of graduates with four-year nursing degrees, program director Diana Schroeder said at the school. Pitt-Johnstown was selected because it already had a strong program that enabled registered nurses from other two-year programs to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

Curriculum was based on the same courses offered at Pitt’s main campus in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Area hospitals, home nursing organizations and outpatient clinics offered clinical opportunities. Participating facilities include Memorial and Windber medical centers and Somerset and Select Specialty hospitals.

“Every course had clinical hours, beginning in the sophomore year,” Schroeder said. “They are in the hospitals two days a week caring for patients.”

Enrollment demonstrates the program’s demand. This year’s charter graduating class started with 26 students. The freshman class has 56 students.

They were culled from hundreds of applicants, Schroeder said.

Janet L. Grady, vice president of academic affairs and nursing and health sciences chairwoman, was nursing program director in its formative years.

“It is challenging to start a new academic endeavor, but we were determined to achieve a high level of competency and satisfaction, not only for our students, but the faculty as well,” Grady said.

Currently located in Blackington Hall, the nursing program’s permanent home is under construction in the new Nursing and Health Sciences Building adjacent to the Science and Engineering Building.

“We have watched the progress of the construction with great anticipation,” Spectar said. “Finally, our nursing and health sciences programs will be under one roof, with state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms.”

Nursing was among 12 new programs developed in response to the campus’s 2008 strategic plan, along with justice administration and criminology, management information systems and applied computer science.

Information that Johnstown had started its own program came as welcome news for local native Sarah Varner.

“I was excited because Pitt is very well known for the bachelor’s of nursing program,” Varner said.

Like Adam, she had already started school at another college and decided to transfer to Pitt-Johnstown. Now she is hoping to continue her education and become a nurse practitioner.

“I am interested in both ends of the spectrum: Pediatrics and geriatrics,” Varner said.

Grad school is a growing choice for nursing graduates, Schroeder said, pointing to the increased use of physician extenders in health care.

Other new nurses, including Adam, are ready to join their colleagues in the field. His training experience in hospitals’ intensive care units cemented his interest in that area of care.

“I like the intensity of caring for the critical patient,” Adam said.

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