Change your life. Change careers.
The only program of its kind in Illinois, the College of Nursing
Graduate Entry Program (“GEP”) enables a student with a baccalaureate degree in another field to pursue nursing qualifications through to a master’s
degree in nursing.
The inaugural class arrived in January 2005 with backgrounds
in finance, public health, research, biology, fine arts, public
service through the Peace Corps, and other health care professions.
They all shared a strong desire to serve patients directly.
“These students are incredibly motivated,” marvels
Dr. Barbara Simmons, lead faculty for the program. “They
had a job they thought they wanted, and maybe it didn’t
work out. Or else they have this passion and this is what they’ve
always wanted to do. Then they go for it. They are such a neat,
tight group – they provide excellent support for each other.
They are independent, motivated, mature, and they excel!”
Mary Bauer, a member of the inaugural class, was a practicing
dental hygienist for 24 years who worked part time while raising
five children. For 10 of those years she also worked as a doula
(a lay person trained to provide support for women during labor
and delivery). “I found myself getting frustrated with
only being able to give physical and emotional support. I wanted
to do everything at a birth from start to finish, including the
final catch of the baby. This program is an incredible opportunity
for people to have second careers and make life changes. If I
could teach my children anything from this experience, it’s
that learning is a lifelong process. It’s never too late
to go back to school.”
Given that the curriculum is somewhat accelerated (compared
to starting traditionally as an upper division undergraduate
student), it has taken creative thinking to choose the essentials
and the most expedient way to approach the necessary learning. “For
that reason we use more technology than in other programs,” says
Simmons. “This is the first class to use PDAs (personal
digital assistants) in clinical practica courses.”
The GEP students are bringing the benefits of that technology
beyond the classroom to the bedside and into the clinics. Simmons
explains, “We’re educating the practicing nurses
about technology that is available to support nursing practice.
When they see the students with PDAs, they want to know what
GEP offers several advantages to solving the nursing shortage.
People who did not plan to become RNs now have the opportunity
to pursue the career. This subset of nurses is encouraged to
be among the most expert in the field and to practice at an advanced
level. According to Charles Yingling, GEP clinical instructor,
they will be trained to keep people healthy and to work with
them to promote health, as opposed to merely treating illness.
Additionally, these individuals are much closer to being faculty
members; a big factor hindering the education of more nurses
for bedside nursing is the nursing faculty shortage. This group
strengthens the potential for excellence in the next generation
of nursing faculty.