Havre Daily News
Montana State University-Northern's once troubled nursing program has earned reaccreditation for eight years, the university said Thursday.
The bachelor's degree in nursing, which students complete on-line, was approved outright by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. For the associate degree program, administrators must submit a report in two years showing that work is being done to recruit better qualified teaching staff and more teachers.
If that report satisfies the NLNAC, both accreditations will be good through 2013, the NLNAC Web site said.
"It's wonderful news. We're very excited," Mary Pappas, director of nursing at Northern, said today.
She said the report the commission asked for reflects goals she has already been working on. Of the nine teachers split among three campuses - in Havre, Lewistown and Great Falls - seven have master's degrees and the remaining two are working toward advanced degrees, Pappas said. Pappas is studying for a Ph.D., she added.
Pappas took over the program on the heels of a scathing review of Northern's program prepared at the request of the state Board of Regents. Earlier in 2003, about 40 percent of the program's 49 students had failed to obtain degrees and had taken their complaints to the regents.
The program came under attack for not being responsive to students' needs, and the report commissioned by the regents called for more teachers who are better trained, as well as for improved clinical classes and testing. The regents had said the changes were needed or the program could lose its accreditation.
"We tried to make some policy changes to improve students' chances of being successful," Pappas said.
The NLNAC praised Northern's curriculum and the changes that had been made to the program, she said.
Those included allowing students to study part time, adding hours of clinic work, and better analysis of test questions.
"A lot of changes, a lot of work has occurred in a relatively short amount of time," Pappas said.
Northern graduates about 50 students with an associate degree in nursing each year and about 15 through the on-line bachelor's program. Most of the program's students are nontraditional students who come to school out of the work force to change or improve their career, Pappas said.
That was a message that Northern's Lewistown campus director, Diane Oldenburg, carried to a meeting with NLNAC commission members in March.
The program in Lewistown provides workers for a local hospital, a state mental health center, nursing homes and other hospitals in the region, she said.
"Our nursing program serves students from six different counties. We tend to serve place-bound students who would not go to a campus far from home. So we are helping to create registered nurses for all those entities," Oldenburg said.
She added: "We have a very nontraditional program, so you're seeing folks in our program who are, for example, ranchers' wives who need to supplement their income and people looking for a better life for themselves."
Oldenburg recalled an incident she said is representative of the types of students Lewistown serves.
"A person asked when spring finals were because she couldn't put the ewes in with the rams ... to be sure they wouldn't have lambs during finals week," Oldenburg said.
In another case, one nursing student was known for taking his textbooks with him during calving and reading them as he waited through the night.
"They've always talked about reading them on the steering wheel of the combine," Oldenburg said. "They have full lives and families, and some of them are single parents. Some of them have farms and ranches and work also as a certified nurse's assistant and go to (school with) us as well. They are incredibly dedicated people. They're the type of people you would want to serve you as a nurse."