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UW's BRAND Program to Graduate First Cohort of Students

August 6, 2009

For the past 15 months, as a student in the University of Wyoming's Bachelors Reach for Accelerated Nursing Degree (BRAND) program, Ingrid Olson says she's hardly had the chance to clean her house.

The homework, she admits, was sometimes overwhelming. The travel, from her home in Cody to Wyoming Medical Center (WMC) in Casper for clinical work, was treacherous and stressful during the winter months. She didn't get to spend much time with her husband, either.

"I sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not because this program has given me such a strong foundation to build my career as a nurse," Olson says. "If I had known what I was getting myself into, I probably would have wimped out and not done it. It was just so intense. But I really am so grateful for the experience."

Olson wasn't the only student in BRAND's first cohort who felt submerged by the program. BRAND coordinator Carrie Deselms says one student told her she was thankful just for an hour to go to grocery shopping. Another was looking forward to graduation because he joked to Deselms that he "thought his wife had had a baby," which she had.

"It's very challenging, both time-wise and intellectually, because we just immerse them in the nursing profession," Deselms says. "Their life is kind of on hold for 15 months."

Life begins anew for BRAND's inaugural class of 20 students Friday, when they celebrate completion of the program with a reception from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the College of Health Sciences Building.

An accelerated BSN program for students who have earned a previous non-nursing baccalaureate degree but decided to change careers and become a registered nurse, BRAND offers a win-win for its graduates, who can benefit from the program's generous loan repayment plan, and the state's healthcare industry, which desperately needs skilled and qualified nurses to work in hospitals from Rock Springs to Torrington to Powell.

To entice graduates to remain in the Cowboy State, BRAND's repayment plan forgives a graduate's loan --- in full -- if he or she works as a registered nurse in Wyoming for two years following graduation. Three students in the first class have already been hired by WMC, says Deselms, and several others are interviewing for jobs or seeking employment at other hospitals around the state.

Jessie Grigsby, who moved from Colorado to Casper last summer, is one of the BRAND graduates who has been hired at WMC, where she recently finished her senior residency. Thanks to the demanding nature of UW's program, Grigsby says she's well-prepared to begin work as a graduate nurse at the Casper hospital.

"It's just extremely intense," says Grigsby, who decided to switch careers after doing mission work for two years following her graduation from the University of Colorado-Boulder. "During the 15 months of the program, you are so immersed in nursing that you really have to focus all of your attention on nursing and honing the skills you need to become a successful nurse."

But, like Olson, Grigsby isn't complaining. What better way to prepare for a career in nursing, a profession not for the faint of heart, than to complete a program that, well, is not for the faint of heart, she says.

Grigsby didn't even mind continuing the program through the summer months rather than taking a break like traditional college students.

"That way," she says, "you don't have a chance to forget anything."

The course requirements are rigorous. BRAND students must complete 14 courses in 15 months covering a range of topics such as pathophysiology, nursing care in acute and chronic illness, pharmacology and community nursing care of vulnerable populations.

Even the list of prerequisites -- which include successful course study in medical microbiology, anatomy and physiology, psychology, statistics and nutrition -- are daunting.

"This first group has been very special. There was no attrition. We started with 20 students and we ended with 20 students," says Deselms, who also works as an associate lecturer in UW's Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. "It wasn't always easy, but they came through like troopers. We're very proud of all of them."

The support of UW faculty -- particularly Deselms -- as well as healthcare professionals from across the state was pivotal to the students' success, says Olson.

"I've heard of other nursing programs that try to weed people out. That's not this program," says Olson, who changed her career course after working as an activities assistant at a Colorado nursing home. "They really wanted everybody to succeed and they bent over backward to make sure you did."

The second BRAND cohort, of 30 students, began in May, shortly after Sen. Mike Massie, D-Laramie, successfully sponsored a legislative bill that re-appropriated $250,000 of general funds from the Wyoming Investment in Nursing program to pay for loans for up to six students per class.

Grigsby has a simple piece of advice for anybody who is considering BRAND in the future: "Think of the program as your full-time job," she says.

And, Olson says, don't worry too much about dusting or vacuuming. They'll be time for that when you're done.

"I actually can't wait to work just 40 hours a week and then come home and not have to do any homework," she says with a laugh. "Now, I'll finally have time to clean my house!"

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