Doing Something Beautiful for God — in Nursing

A profile of Benedictine College’s new nursing school.

Benedictine College graduates its first nursing students at the end of the upcoming academic year. Increasing public awareness of health-care reform, along with the rising number of ethical issues in health care due to advances in science and technology, have drawn more attention to Catholic initiatives like the college’s new nursing program.

Benedictine’s year-old program is designed to prepare future nurses to work effectively in a field potentially fraught with many challenges.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses form the largest group in the health-care professions. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing predicts a continuing shortage of registered nurses as many current nurses approach retirement. The demand for nurses is on the rise. Colleges struggle to find instructors and allocate classroom space to satisfy the growing demand.

Benedictine College first began to consider a nursing program when representatives of area health-care agencies approached the administration, Kim Shankman, dean of the college, said.

“It is really consistent with our mission, and we decided to examine the feasibility,” Shankman said.

Another consideration was student interest. “Every year, we would have wonderful students who really wanted to be nurses, so we thought that starting a program would help us respond to student needs,” Shankman explained.

The college’s president, Stephen Minnis, agrees that the nursing program belongs at Benedictine College and believes that the nursing profession is one of the Church’s great contributions to the world.

“Catholic health care is on the front lines of the battle for Catholic identity in public life,” Minnis said. “Ultimately, our answer to Catholic health-care identity fights is to produce young men and women who are savvy, unapologetically Catholic, and put them on the ground in good careers.”

“Our mission is to educate within a community of faith and scholarship. Nursing unites those three things — community, faith and scholarship — in a unique way,” Minnis added.

Benedictine College’s nursing program is housed in the Mother Teresa Center for Nursing and Health Education.

“When our students walk into the Mother Teresa Nursing Center, they know what we expect of them,” Minnis said. “Mother Teresa was 100% committed to the sanctity of life and the teachings of the Church. That is what we expect of Benedictine nurses. Mother Teresa was also 100% committed to every person in her care. Her motto, ‘Give your hands to serve and your heart to love,’ is our program’s motto too — and the words that our soon-to-be nurses walk by every day on the way to class.”

Unique Spiritual Aspect

Nursing student Jean Danner will be one of the program’s first graduates in May 2012 and believes she is well-prepared to be a Catholic registered nurse.

“Benedictine College’s nursing program focuses on serving each patient as a person with dignity, a person who is created in the image of God,” Danner said. “All nursing programs focus on restoring health, but our program has a unique spiritual aspect. I think Benedictine is educating nurses who will care for patients, body and soul, as if they were Christ himself.”  

The college requires nursing students to take courses in bioethics and courses on professional, legal and ethical issues in nursing, as well as philosophy and theology, providing nursing students with a strong Catholic foundation, said Lynne Connelly, director of nursing at BC.

“What I am hoping is that, with this foundation, our students will be able to take what they’ve learned and apply it to case-related situations,” Connelly said.

The small size of Benedictine’s nursing program benefits the students by offering them more opportunities for discussion and more interaction with instructors. “When things come up in a clinical situation, we talk about those issues,” Connelly said. “Because our program is small, it’s more conducive to discussions as issues come up. We get to know our students and what they’re thinking, and that’s important.”

Having outside speakers address the nursing students provides a broader perspective for the students. “We want to make them aware of the issues they’ll encounter,” Connelly said. “For example, [Benedictine] sisters from Mount St. Scholastica have spoken to our students about issues related to the elderly.”

The sisters are well qualified to speak on the issue. In 2010, U.S. News and World Report named the Dooley Center on the grounds of the monastery as one of the top nursing homes in the country.

Prospective nurses coming to Benedictine get more than a quality and up-to-date nursing program. The college is known for its sense of community. “When you have a residential college, you can’t help but have a tight-knit group,” Connelly said. “Many of our students come for that.”

“The faculty and staff care about you,” Connelly added. “If you don’t show up, they go looking for you. You don’t get that at a bigger school. That makes a difference, no matter what profession you’re going into, but especially in nursing because it’s a caring profession.”

The college’s location in a small community has students spending most of their clinical hours locally at Atchison Regional Hospital, the Dooley Center and Atchison Senior Village, Connelly said. However, in nearby Kansas City, students have the opportunity to do their pediatric clinical training at the much larger University of Kansas Medical Center.

The benefit of doing their clinicals in smaller institutions is that nursing students can develop a wider area of expertise. In larger institutions, there’s more specialization early on, Connelly said. At Benedictine, students get a taste of both.

Rule of Benedict

The nursing program at Benedictine College seemed to come into being at just the right time, considering the debates about Catholic identity and health care. While a Catholic nursing student can get excellent training at a state school, Benedictine’s program goes one step farther, said Shankman.

“We can focus much more clearly on the morality of health care and can focus on the spiritual needs that should be addressed as part of a holistic approach to health care,” Shankman said. “We ground our nursing program in the same Christian anthropology that animates the entire Benedictine community, so students know that their fundamental duty is to respect the dignity of the person who comes to them as a patient. “All human beings, no matter how weak, sick or helpless, are made in the image and likeness of God. Our students learn that explicitly; at a state school that can’t be part of the curriculum.”

Nursing student Danner agreed: “It’s incredibly important to have a nursing program at a Catholic college. The Rule of St. Benedict says, ‘Before all things and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, so that they will be served as if they were Christ in person.’ I think it is a strong statement to say that caring for the sick comes ‘before all things and above all things.’ It is a central part of our mission as Catholics.”

Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.

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