Campus News / Features

Celebrating 50 Years of Nursing at WPU

By: Alissa Lopez – Editor-In-Chief and Erin Schlosser – Copy Editor

William Paterson’s nursing program, one of the best in New Jersey, is celebrating 50 years of education this month. Since opening its doors in 1976, the program has grown with great success. Graduates from the nursing program have a 100% employment rate.

Nursing students huddle together in University Hall with laptops, notes, and plenty of supplies for long days of studying, labs, clinicals, and preparing for weekly exams that prepare students for the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination), a standardized test that marks the first step to achieving a nursing degree.

“We just had a NCLEX pass rate of 90.7%,” said Nadine Aktan, chair of the nursing program. 2016’s outstanding pass rate was a new record.

The program’s high NCLEX passing rate, multiple affiliations, and its quality of education is what led freshman Katrina Adap to attend William Paterson as a nursing major. “Both of my parents are nurses too, so from the start I’ve always had a love for nursing.”

Inna Obolonskaya, a junior nursing major, attributed the many opportunities for advancing and mobility in nursing for her choice to enter the profession. “I was never a person that wanted to sit at a desk all day. I wanted to be more active and this [nursing] allows it,” Obolonskaya said.

            The first nursing students at William Paterson entered the Department of Nursing Education in September of 1966, under director Margaret Marshall. In the early years of the program, students attended classes all over campus; it would be years before the program centralized to its first home, Hunziker Wing. In 1970, the program officially became the School of Nursing and received accreditation from the National League of Nursing, the nation’s oldest nursing education membership association. This accreditation certified that William Paterson students received the highest quality of education.

In the second decade of the program, Suzanne Hawes was at the helm, as the Dean of School of Health Professions and Nursing from 1978-1988. Hawes fought to give the program a home; she was influential in the renovations of Hunziker Wing, designing it as a base for Nursing and Health Professions. The curriculum was amended twice under, from a medical model to the Roy Adaption model. This curriculum included laboratory and theory courses to give students well-rounded training.

“Everything is application,” junior nursing major Meghan Montgomery said.

“It’s a lot of hard work. It feels like midterms are finals, but every single week,” said Obolonskaya.

Intense workloads filled with weekly exams and labs prepare students for the HESI (Health Education Systems Incorporated) exam every semester which is in preparation for the NCLEX.

“Every semester it’s a giant exam. If you fail it you fail the class and you can’t move on. People get held back,” Montgomery said.

Nursing exams are different from other exams because all the answers are right, but students have to choose the “most right,” Obolonskaya said. “You’re presented with four different patients but who do you see first… You have to change you’re way of thinking of what doing well is.”

The third decade of the nursing program brought Sigma Theta Tau, the honor society of nursing, to William Paterson. The first 180 charter members were inducted into the Iota Alpha chapter in May of 1986. In 1989, students were treated to two presentations from Sister Callista Roy, a nursing theorist and professor; she was designated as a 2007 Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing. Roy created the adaptation model of nursing, a principal nursing theory.

Just prior to William Paterson being granted university status in 1997, the program initiated its Master of Science degree in nursing program, using a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant. The first Masters students from the nursing program graduated in 1999 and the Master’s program was accredited in 2005 by the CCNE.

The last ten years of the nursing program have been full of progress. In 2008, the Nel Bolger, R.N. Nursing Laboratory opened, offering students a state-of-the-art simulation room. The lab was created with a $500,000 donation to the university from David Bolger, a philanthropist from Ridgewood; his aunt, Nel Bolger, was a nurse in the Netherlands during World War II.

2011 brought a handful of changes to the program: the Family Nurse Practitioner track, Doctor of Nursing Practice program and the first post-Master’s program were initiated. Perhaps the most exciting change to the department came just last year, when University Hall opened its doors.

“This project ensures that William Paterson University students will be armed with the best possible education to go out into the world and change it for the better,” said then-acting Governor Kim Guadagno at the ribbon cutting of the building.

“It takes a lot of hard work and focus. It’s overwhelming at times… You have to really want it,” junior nursing major Kaylah Howard said.

The new University Hall offers state-of-the-art equipment for students to simulate experiences similar to a hospital setting. The Nel Bolger R.N. Nursing Laboratory was relocated from Hunziker Wing to the nursing program’s new base.

“The program had one lab in Hunziker Wing. In University Hall, we have six labs,” Aktan said.

The program will be commemorating five decades of quality, applied education on its anniversary on March 30th with a celebration in University Hall. The event will begin at 4 p.m. with speaker Kathleen Connolly, presenting “Nursing Today: A Perspective on Nursing’s Role in Today’s Health Care Reality.” Connolly served as Acting Dean of the School of Nursing and Allied Health in 1977 and was an assistant professor in the program.

From 5:30 to 7 p.m., tours will be given of the nursing program’s new home, University Hall. Guests will have the chance to see research posters and a detailed timeline of 50 years of nursing at William Paterson.


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