Nursing school: a unique undergrad experience

The following is the first in a series of articles highlighting programs and schools that are not as well known as some of the larger, more common ones at UM.

It seems as though the School of Nursing and Health Sciences is a world apart from the rest of the university’s undergraduate programs – especially while still in somewhat their off-campus building. Exclusive lab fees, extensive clinical training and educational programs provide nursing students with a distinct undergraduate experience.

Dione Occenad, a senior in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, works hard. Twice a week, she wakes up at 5 a.m. and heads to a local hospital for her clinicals, which are eight-hour-long nursing shifts. Like many of her fellow students, Occenad divides her time between a heavy workload and involvement in several student organizations.

“It’s a lot to expect from students, but our students do it very well,” said Elaine Kauschinger, a clinical instructor for the school.

In addition to the students, faculty and staff at the School of Nursing also face challenges. Kauschinger and the rest of her coworkers have been working in boxed-up offices since January. For now, their offices are still housed in the old nursing building, which used to be a fraternity house.

“If these walls could talk.” Kauschinger said with a laugh.

When the new Christine M. Schwartz School of Nursing and Health Studies does open, which officials to be November, its benefits will include a more central location on campus as well as an expanded simulation lab. The current building houses one such lab, but the new facility will have four.

The simulation labs serve to recreate critical, neonatal, pediatric and adult care wards. They feature replica humans capable of simulating a variety of ailments and symptoms that the students must learn to identify as part of their training.

“We’re really taking it to a whole new level,” said Jay Ober, director of simulation for the School of Nursing.

Ober developed the algorithms and protocols for the simulations.

Fee controversy

While there is widespread anticipation for the expanded simulations, some students are angered by the fee they have to pay for the labs.

“I remember Jay Ober standing over me saying simulation would not cost a dime,” said Nicole Nazon, a senior nursing student.

To her surprise, she received a $500 simulation lab fee along with her tuition bill.

Nazon is the public relations officer for the Black Nursing Students Association (BNSA). At a recent meeting of the BNSA, several members spoke of their growing frustration with the School of Nursing’s administration.

“There’s a big dividing line between the people in the school who make decisions and the people who those decisions affect,” said Monique McAfee, a junior and BNSA member.

Despite the increasing protests from some nursing students, the administration has remained in favor of the school’s technological advances.

“It’s really helping in their education and helping increase their competence,” said Nilda Peragallo, dean of the School of Nursing. “The juniors haven’t had any problem with it. [It’s] more of a problem the seniors have.”

Ober feels that the student’s dissatisfaction with the simulation lab fees is not consistent with their prior feedback on the issue.

“It’s quite odd because [the students] said they’d pay thousands of dollars for the [simulation] experience in their evaluations,” Ober said.

Ober explained that the simulation lab fee is merely a renamed fee that has been in place for years. He added that some of the simulation mannequins were destroyed last year by students angered by the fee. Moreover, Ober estimated the damage at $60,000 and added that the tongue of a mannequin baby was pulled out.

“The students are hostile, obviously,” Ober said.

Other expenses

Another way that the school is integrating technology is by requiring students to purchase laptops and PDAs.

Peragallo believes that both tools are essential for nursing students, but a number of students have their doubts – with some admitting that they have yet to use either their laptops or their PDAs thus far.

Adding to the already high auxiliary cost associated with being a nursing student is the need for transportation to clinicals, students say.

“We do let them know that they need a car,” Peragallo said in reference to the considerable distance between UM and many of the hospitals to which students are sent for their clinical training.

Occenad said that many non-nursing students are surprised that the university does not provide transportation.

“People think we get free MetroRail passes,” Occenad said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, no. Hell, no.'”

Peragallo does not believe that the School of Nursing could feasibly provide MetroRail passes for all of its students.

“I would need another line item in my operations budget,” Peragallo said.

Despite any dissatisfaction within the school, many nursing students speak excitedly about the value of their future degree. As reported in the national press, the country is currently experiencing an overall shortage in nursing personnel, leaving many hospitals desperate for extra staff, a fact which bodes well for the school’s 473 undergraduate and 69 graduate students.

“The employment opportunities are, to say the least, abundant. It’s almost every shift, every hospital,” said Kauschinger, adding that many nurses earn well over six figures.

Joanna Sikkema, a lecturer in the school, is equally enthusiastic.

“There’s a huge shortage and obviously people are going to keep getting sick,” she said, “so it’s not something that’s going to go away.”

Hunter Umphrey may be contacted at