New Master's Entry Program in Nursing presents unique opportunity for first students

The introduction of the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis represents the first time UC Davis has offered a program to prepare new nurses and presents unique opportunities and challenges for students entering the first class in summer 2016. They may ask, “So what is the master’s-entry program like?” The answer: “That’s up to how its first students and new faculty choose to shape its course.”

buidling MPEN inauguration Graduates of the inaugural master’s-degree leadership class celebrate their accomplishments in 2012.

Whereas longer-standing programs are rooted in established practices, the master’s entry program at UC Davis lives without constraints. Creative thinkers will pioneer their education by reimaging the future without expectations from the past: a prospect that could be nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time.

“Even though there were no former students to guide me on certain courses, I really enjoyed being part of the process of shaping the academic program at a new school,” explained Ren Bee, a member of the inaugural master’s-degree leadership class. “The school really embraced student feedback. I also thought it was pretty remarkable to attend a brand new school without feeling the ‘newness’ throughout the entire time.”

Bee was among the first 33 students admitted to the master’s-degree leadership and doctor of philosophy programs in fall 2010. At the time, Founding Dean Heather M. Young described them as “risk-takers who joined a program with a willingness to co-create it” along with the leadership and faculty. In 2013, the school added two, additional master’s-degree programs for aspiring nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Students in those classes welcomed the chance to assist in charting the path of instruction.

“The feedback that the students gave to the faculty and administration was implemented pretty quickly into the curriculum,” recalled Dale Risenhoover, an inaugural physician assistant student. “The changes happen in a way that’s exciting, because you see the changes within a matter of weeks.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for more than 580,000 new and replacement nurses by the year 2018, prompting nursing schools to explore creative ways to increase capacity and reach out to new kinds of prospective students. Yet, not all schools and all nursing education programs are created equally. School of Nursing leaders carefully crafted a program that would meet the ever-changing needs of today’s health care evolution.

“The master’s-entry program has been in the planning for more than five years. We are excited to finally welcome the new students and engage them in learning,” said Theresa Harvath, associate dean for academics. “The first class is always special. I think the bonds that form are lasting and memorable. It is akin to the excitement that new parents experience. Although you love all your children, the first is the first and only and we get to shower our attention on them in a way that is special.” Faculty at the School of Nursing value the experiences, knowledge and abilities new students bring to the school. Through innovative coursework and inventive learning spaces, the school sets a new paradigm for how students engage with their professors, fellow students and the classroom environment that surrounds them.

“I think from the day that we said yes or the day that we applied to the School of Nursing, we signed up for bold transformation and to be innovators,” added Lori Madden, a member of the inaugural doctor of philosophy class. “I think that the School of Nursing attracts people interested in moving things forward and working together to transform health care.”

The school plans to admit a first class of 24 students for summer 2016 enrollment, with classes increasing annually to reach 48 students admitted each summer, which is expected by about 2020.

“I had the pleasure to be in the inaugural cohort of students when OHSU opened its doctoral program in 1985. To this day, it carries meaning for me,” Harvath recalled. “It is exciting to be the inaugural cohort because faculty are so thrilled for the program to begin. I knew that I was helping to launch something important.”

“I think the best piece of advice that I can give to a new applicant wanting to apply to this program would be: to expect the unexpected,” Risenhoover added. “This is a new program that is starting basically from the ground up. It’s an experience that changes your life ― for good.”