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'Problems' found in nursing program


October 28, 2013

The Montana State Board of Nursing’s executive officer has found Montana State University-Northern’s nursing program not in “substantial compliance” with the state nursing education rules.

Cynthia Gustafson, the executive officer of the Montana State Board of Nursing, visited Northern Oct. 16 and 17 to look at the nursing program.

“Our site report findings presented to the Board in July concluded that the program was in ‘substantial compliance’ with the rules of the Board … but that there were areas of work that the program needed to report back to the Board in their 2013 annual report,” Gustafson’s report says.

After the October visit, which was requested by staff and faculty within the program, Gustafson found that “the program is no longer in ‘substantial compliance’ with the standards of Subchapter 6 Nursing Education Programs.”

“At this point, (Chancellor Jim Limbaugh) and I are taking a very exhaustive look at the report,” Director of University Relations Jim Potter said. “We’re figuring out exactly what we need to do.”

Potter added that he and Limbaugh are still forming their response to the report.

Gustafson said this report is based on 71 interviews she made with students and faculty at Northern.

While praising some aspects of the program, she was critical of others.

One of the issues is that of unclear roles and communication between administrators and the nursing program director Lisa O’Neil.

Another problem is communication within the chain of command, she said.

“There have been unclear expectations with the role of the Nursing Program Director reporting to the Dean and then the Provost and then the Chancellor,” the report says. “There was also a top level administrator who, by all accounts, played a large part in the current problems the nursing faculty and nursing program director were having.”

Gustafson said this problem was remedied by Chancellor Jim Limbaugh taking the person out of the chain of command.

Gustafson and Potter wouldn’t say who was removed. However, last week, Provost Rosalyn Templeton unexpectedly left the university.

This year a new student handbook was given to students “without a good plan for implementation,” and this may be difficult for returning students who were given a different handbook last year and now must switch, she said.

Interviews with representatives from the Aaniiih Nakota College showed there is a concern about discrimination at the college.

Gustafson said they provided her evidence of “disrespect of students, a culture of fear and intimidation, belittling of students during clinical rotations, negativity, gross lack of understanding of American Indian tribal culture and medicine, and evident that the only ones who survive in the nursing program are those who ‘hide their culture.’”

“ANC has said it looks to MSU-Northern as a center of nursing excellence in education, but conditions at MSU-Northern have led to the distress the ANC is now expressing,” the report says.

Gustafson said Northern’s nursing program has an inadequate budget to get supplies needed for clinical instruction and that this is due to the cuts of institutional budgets across campus.

Students complained about feedback from faculty and very negative encounters with “a minority of faculty members where they were ‘put down,’ threatened with failure, threatened with legal action and generally made to feel very uncomfortable.”

Though many of the students Gustafson interviewed said negative things about the way the nursing program is run, she said she also received some very positive reports from students who said the majority of the faculty were listening and providing good instruction and academic advising.

O’Neil’s role is another area of concern. O’Neil is not supposed to be teaching full-time as per her job description, but has had to to make up for disparities in staff. The disparities in staff, which were noted as a problem that needed addressing in the March site visit by the board of nursing, are still a problem, according to O’Neil.

Gustafson also noted some strengths of the nursing program, which include: A very dedicated and engaged staff, a chancellor and dean who sincerely want to create a successful nursing program and are committed to achieving that goal, engaged and eager students, clinical partners who depend on and want to provide clinical experiences for Northern students so the region’s employers will be able to hire well-prepared graduates, and others.

Another set of outside consultants are scheduled to take a look at the program in the middle of November, Potter said.

“Maybe they will find the same things, maybe they’ll find totally different things,” Potter said.

The two consultants work with the nursing program at Angelo State University in Texas, and are former co-workers of Limbaugh’s.

“What makes that program very special is that it’s a two-year nursing program,” Potter said. “Their program is very similar to ours, so their input and recommendations will be really important to us.”


Reader Comments

mamasan writes:

As a former graduate of MSU-NORTHERN'S nursing program twice, ASN AND BSN, I would like to make a comment. The nursing program is very difficult and I had to devote my life to studying. I am proud to be an alumni of MSU-Northern's nursing program and I hope the problems can be worked out. It would be sad to see the nursing program go under.

Willy writes:

Yes maybe Dr. Templeton was part fo the prpblem, but if Big Jim had listened to her and Dr. O'Neal, in the first place he would have known many these things. Big Jim loves to pass the buck and blame others. Now what is going to happen if his cronies have a different view than the State Board of Nursing? The MONTANA State Board of Nursing is what matters.


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