Gonzaga University announced its national ranking in the online Master of Science in Nursing on Jan. 17. The Family Nurse Practitioner program is ranked ninth in the nation for best specialty master of nursing program by U.S. News & World Report. 

This program entails 78 credits, which is above the country-wide average of 66 credits. After 1,000 practicum hours and an average completion time of five years, students are then eligible to take the national certification exam, which licences  them for advance practice.

The program is not exclusively online, though, with a minimum of six on-campus immersions, averaging one per semester over five practicum semesters. The faculty takes four site visits, at a minimum, to evaluate students in their practicum settings.

Every semester, the program admits around 50 students with about 600 enrolled and varying levels of completion.

Having a master’s in nursing allows nurse practitioners to open their own practice, prescribe medicine, perform physicals and earn a higher salary. 

Jane Tiedt, associate dean for graduate nursing programs, and Deborah Smith, nurse practitioner director and senior lecturer at the department of nursing, work closely with students enrolled in the program to ensure they are learning the proper information for their future careers.

Both have taught at GU for over 15 years and seen the growth in technology through the lens of the Online Family Nurse Practitioner program. 

The program began in 1991 before the internet, making GU one of the pioneers in remote learning.

“We actually videotaped class and mailed the VHS to students to watch at home,” Tiedt said. 

After mailing home VHS tapes, the program moved to DVDs and has embraced online classes since 2004, which more closely resembles its modern day successors.

The advancements in technology have helped students study the human body from the comfort of their own home.

“[Smith] talks about teaching the nursing student the muscles and how to assess the musculoskeletal,” Tiedt said. “They actually do a video of her doing it on a human person, but then, the technology, they overlay an actual picture of the muscle, so they can actually see what that looks like.”

In addition to online course work, each didactic/practicum course meets once a semester in Spokane to work on skills that require hands-on practice, while participating in the Culminating Objective Structured Clinical Evaluations, or the objective structured clinical examination, exams and case studies. 

“It usually starts at 7 in the morning and we finish at about 5 [at night],” Smith said. “Also, in that time, we do a fair amount of testing of our students to make sure their diagnosis and their plans or care are up to date with what we use.”

The online classes allow for students from the 10 Western states to learn and practice in their hometowns by helping the health care provider with which they work.

One of the students, Deanna Barrett, resides in Spokane, where she decided to live after graduating from GU in 2016 with her bachelor of science in nursing. 

Since moving from San Diego to work toward her undergraduate degree at GU, Barrett has worked at Sacred Heart Medical Center on the cardiac/telemetry unit as a bedside and charge nurse.

“This is my first experience with an education almost solely based online,” Barrett said in an email. “However, it has been surprisingly easy to adjust to online classes.”

The online classes have a discussion board, much like the discussion boards used by undergraduates at GU on Blackboard, which helps students engage with one another.

“Having the flexibility to review course materials and assignments at any time has allowed me to work full time while also completing my degree,” Barrett said.

The hope of the program is to prepare future nurse practitioners to go into their own communities to strengthen those who are most vulnerable, most commonly found in small towns with little healthcare service available. 

“We targeted nurses in rural areas that wanted to stay in their own communities,” Tiedt said. 

GU’s mission of caring for the whole person resonates with the Online Family Nurse Practitioner program, knowing nurses enrolled want to help their community, as well as take classes.

Students are prepared to talk with their future patients about tough decisions and situations that may be difficult for the nurses themselves.

“They’re learning their role of being a nurse practitioner in their own community under the supervision of a preceptor in their local area,” Tiedt said.

Something that sets this program apart ties into GU’s Jesuit roots: talking about discernment and Cura Personalis in the 600-level class. 

“We look at the laying of the hand ceremony for our graduates in their last course,” Smith said. “I think that the Jesuit piece differentiates us and we are challenged in every course to say why this course differs from a public school education.”

Lindsey Wilson is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @lindseyrwilson1. 

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