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Nursing program marks 50th anniversary

Shenandoah University associate professor Christine Newby teaches a skills lab class inside the Health Professions Building on the Winchester Medical Center Campus. Shenandoah University's Nursing Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah University nursing student Stephanie Russell, 26, of Purcellville, uses an ophthalmoscope while viewing a mock patient inside the Health Professions Building on the Winchester Medical Center Campus. Shenandoah University's Nursing Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter - kwalter@nvdaily.com

Since its origination in 1962, Shenandoah University's Division of Nursing has gone from offering a two-year, associate degree in science to now offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, and on Friday, the program is celebrating 50 years of growth and success.

Kathy Ganske, director of school's Division of Nursing, started at SU in 1994 as a faculty member, and was teaching when the division initiated the first graduate nursing programs in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

"The reason for the growth of our program is that it was a response to the needs of the community and region for more advanced practice nurses," she said. Several other opportunities have opened up within the division as well, such as the family nurse practitioner program, a mental health tract at the master's level. A nurse mid-wifery tract is also available, and is the only one in the state.

"Fifty years ago and beyond, when you thought of a nurse, you thought of someone in a white uniform and cap, acting as an assistant to a doctor," Ganske said. "But now we educate people to be multidisciplinary in their approach to care, be critical thinkers, and to have a high level of reasoning ability to care for modern patients who are living longer and often have more than one illness."

The division still offers an accelerated two-year program for those who already hold a degree in another discipline. It can be completed in four semesters, and Ganske said it's very attractive to local residents looking for a career change.

SU's program has a current pass rate of 90 percent for the national license exam that officially makes someone a registered nurse. Ganske said the bar has continuously been raised for those taking the test, "as it should."

"I'm happy with that number, but I want more," she said. "We have a reputation of excellence with the Board of Nursing."

Virginia is home to several nursing programs, some much bigger than the one at Shenandoah. Regardless, Ganske said students still transfer to SU from such universities.

"Students tell me that they didn't like the larger programs because they didn't have a close relationship with their professors ... they just felt like a number," she said. "We have plenty of students, but it's a much more close-knit environment."

Ganske said that mandated health insurance will put a large part of the population out looking for health care providers.

"There just won't be enough of them," she said. "And while there's the impending nursing shortage, there's also a faculty shortage because a majority of the group of teachers we have now is reaching retirement."

She said pursuing a degree to be able to teach does require a good deal of time and dedication, but added that there is financial aid available for those who want to do it.

"I've wanted to do this since I was a sophomore nursing student because of the role modeling that I saw in the faculty that taught me," she said. "We should be teaching young nurses ... it's really an obligation in the nursing and medication professions."

Ganske said she's happy she decided to not only be a nurse, but "pay it forward" and teach those aspiring to be in the health care field.

"It takes time, but I got here, and I'm glad every day," she said. "As a university, we have a serious obligation to do this right. These folks will end up taking care of me, my family and the community."

Friday's celebration event will take place in the evening, and will feature alumni speakers, entertainment and refreshments.

"This truly is a celebration of 50 years of nursing excellence," Ganske said.

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