Dean Courtney H. Lyder of the School of Nursing and Terry Fulmer, dean of the NYU College of Nursing. Fulmer delivered the keynote speech to UCLA's nursing graduates.The faculty and staff of the UCLA School of Nursing had more to celebrate than most this commencement season. The 51 students who picked up their bachelor of science degrees in nursing on June 12 became the first class in 15 years to do so. Their commencement symbolized the rebirth of an undergraduate nursing program that had been dismantled 15 years ago but was reinstated in 2005 in response to a statewide nursing shortage.
In 1995, the School of Nursing had to suspend admissions to its undergraduate nursing program as a result of deep state budget cuts that forced campus leaders to reorganize schools, departments and programs. But in 2005, the UC Board of Regents voted to reinstate funding for the B.S. degree program in nursing because of a critical shortage of nurses. At the time, California ranked 49th out of 50 states in the nurse-to-population ratio. While the national average was 782 nurses per 100,000 people, California's ratio was 544 nurses per 100,000.
While the California State University system was producing baccalaureate-degree graduates in nursing, all of its programs were impacted; some CSU nursing programs had a three-year waiting list of students wanting to enter.
To respond to this crisis, the UCLA nursing school welcomed in the fall of 2006 its first class of undergraduates since the program was suspended. And commencement followed four years later.
Graduate Erica Peterson spoke on behalf of her class. Peterson said she switched from pre-med to nursing when "I saw how the nursing profession encompassed all aspects of health care.""We are graduating a group of strong nurse leaders," said Dean Courtney H. Lyder, "individuals who will be working to improve the delivery of care, lower the length of hospital stays, prevent medical errors and enhance the quality of life for patients,"
The reinstated curriculum for these students provided an introduction to nursing administration, and featured training staffing, cost analysis, use of resources, case management and leadership. Students were also immersed in clinical rotations at some of the finest local hospitals and were paired with nursing professionals to experience first-hand caring for patients.
The bachelor's program at UCLA is the only undergraduate nursing program in the UC system.
"The bachelor of science in nursing program has also become the most competitive degree on campus," added Lyder. "This year we had over 1,200 applicants for 50 spots."
Erica Peterson, one of the inaugural graduates, was selected to speak on behalf of her class. She started UCLA as a physiological science major interested in the pre-med track, and switched to nursing.
"I always enjoyed the sciences, and at the time, I thought medicine was the only way to be in health care," said Peterson.
An open house at the school explaining the reinstated program inspired her to change majors. "For the first time, I saw how the nursing profession encompassed all aspects of health care. The faculty had the scientific background as their foundation, but their expertise extended beyond that. My passion for people interaction, education, research and healing did not have to be compromised by a career. Nursing had all of the possibilities, and I was excited to discover them."
The milestone comes on the 60th anniversary of the School of Nursing. Considered one of the nation's top 10 nursing schools, the school also offers postgraduate and doctoral programs.