Students from all disciplines are expected to take their classroom lessons into the real world — but none more so than nursing students.

That’s why prospective nurses choose the University of Maine’s School of Nursing.

In fact, UMaine has a trifecta effect that is setting its nursing program apart. Educators with real world experience, a supportive environment where nursing students learn to lean on each other for support, and the opportunity to learn in real-world settings all contribute to UMaine’s successful program.

Hands-on learning prepares Army nurse

According to Spencer Pelkey, a fourth-year nursing student and Army ROTC cadet, the School of Nursing has prepared him for military service as an Army nurse. A Stearns High School graduate, Pelkey already had a full scholarship that he earned as high school valedictorian. He intended to enter UM as a pre-med student.

“Three-quarters of the way through the semester, it clicked that doctors don’t work a lot with patients,” he said. “I really liked the compassion and time with patients that nurses got.”

He changed his concentration to focus on nursing and now wants to go into ICU nursing in the Army. An internship in Hawaii gave him experience the day-to-day workings of the ICU nurse. His training at UMaine will help him attain that goal.

“We got to know all the professors very well. They were willing to take the time to work with us individually,” he said.

Pelkey’s partnerships spanned various specialties. He had a partnership with St. Joseph Hospital and did some training at Eastern Maine Medical Center as well as at Acadia Hospital. He especially liked his experience with Acadia Hospital.

The training ground of real-life settings was imperative.

“You can read books for 20 hours a day, but when you’re dealing with real patients, it’s freaky at first because you’re really dealing with a person,” Pelkey said.

Non-traditional student finds new career path in nursing

For Chrissy MacDonald, a nurse from Manchester, giving birth to her daughter sparked a desire to go into nursing.

MacDonald, a 1990 UMaine business administration graduate, used her UMaine training to succeed in nursing. When her daughter was born in 2004, she decided to spend some time at home and later made a “complete career change” by returning to college and earning a nursing degree.

“Nursing is not for the light of heart,” MacDonald said. “The care that people gave me [at the hospital] and the fact that they actually paid attention to my needs was what I really liked. I knew I wanted to work with people, like when I saw when my daughter was born.”

Having a four-year degree was an advantage when she returned to UMaine.

“The nursing program at UMaine is tough,” she said. “But it’s tough for a reason: [Nursing] is a highly skilled profession and is stressful. But you get used to what you’ll see when you [enter the workforce].”

MacDonald did her first clinical at St. Joseph Hospital and gained practical experience at Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Healthcare. But the medical/surgical rotation at Inland Hospital really caught her attention; today she’s a nurse in that department.

The combination of her advisor’s guidance, the assistance of a peer mentor, and guidance from teachers within the school allowed her to finish a degree in nursing and find a job quickly.

“They can give you a solid foundation, but you have to build the apartment building,” she said.

Cardiac nurse credits UM School of Nursing with success

Courtney Wright, an Ellsworth native and 2011 UM nursing graduate, said that her position as a cardiac nurse at EMMC is entirely due to the skills she developed at UMaine.

“My job at EMMC is due to the School of Nursing,” Wright said. “They set me up with a partnership that turned into a job offer. It was a huge relief to be offered the position the Monday before graduation. I had to pass my boards first, but now here I am.”

She first got a taste for the healthcare field through her interest in a high school anatomy and physiology class. She credits that Ellsworth High School class for sparking her interest in health and the human body.

“I considered being a [physician’s assistant], but then decided I wanted to practice patient care. I was always interested in people and what I could do to make a difference,” she said.

Wright knew she wanted to stay close to home for college, and she earned a full academic scholarship to a Maine school of her choice.

“I had a lot of friends who went to UMaine, and they have a high pass rate for the NCLEX [the nursing board test],” she said. “I also liked the one-on-one with the instructors. When I visited campus, I knew it was right.”

Her first clinical was in the cardiac unit at EMMC. “I loved cardiac from the start,” Wright said. “My teacher had a huge impact on me. She really prepared me for progressing by having high expectations and setting the bar high.”

Wright developed partnership opportunities that would make her competitive for jobs. “They were very helpful in steering my partnership experience,” she said. “My partnership was a huge opportunity to take on a full patient-care assessment.

“I take care of five patients now, and because of the one-on-one nursing time with my instructors, the 192 hours you put in allows you to get used to working 12-hour shifts and balancing your life outside of work,” she said.

All UMaine nursing students are required to complete a 192-hour final practicum. Wright said that because the instructors at the School of Nursing are still working themselves, they’re in tune with the needs and challenges students will face.

“UMaine is just a small gem.” she said. “The education they get there really prepares [a nurse] for the workforce and helps them make the transition. They still take pride in their students even after they’re out [in the workforce].”