Wesley College marks 50 years of nursing program

Wesley College senior nursing student Betty Lee entered the school’s program from her native Denver. It was the college’s early hands-on policies and program offerings that drew her to Wesley.
(Delaware State News photo by Marc Clery)

DOVER — When nursing student Betty Lee’s patient showed up at the hospital with internal bleeding from an unknown source in her abdomen, the patient was anxious to the point of confusion.

“She’d never had any memory issues before, but she was so scared and worried about her situation that she was frequently forgetting where she was,” said Ms. Lee.

Being there for the patient, and bringing her comfort in her distress made Ms. Lee realize, all over again, that she’d chosen the right career.

“It was just this incredible reminder of the human side of health care. Every time I went into her room and she saw me in my scrubs, she seemed instantly to feel better,” said Ms. Lee.

“I’d just sit there and hold her hand, and help her relax. It was a great feeling and reminder that we all need people to get along — complicated procedures and medical work aside.”

Ms. Lee, 21, is a transplant to Delaware from just outside Denver. She has just entered her senior year at Wesley College in Dover in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It was the college’s early hands-on policies and program offerings that drew her to Wesley.

“I knew I wanted to go out of state for college, but when I was looking at nursing programs throughout the country I found that a lot of them required you to attend the school for two years, then reapply to the nursing program,” said Ms. Lee.

“That was nerve-wracking because I didn’t want to move my life across the country and not end up getting into the nursing program two years later and then be stuck. At Wesley, you’re in the program as a freshman and you start clinical work right away.”

Ms. Lee is just one example of the type of student Wesley College’s nursing program, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, has attracted to Dover.

Wesley College nursing student Betty Lee trains at the the newly renovated 36,000-square-foot Johnston Hall Health Sciences building with state-of-the-art simulation labs and equipment. (Delaware State News photo by Marc Clery)

Program’s growth

The Wesley College nursing program had humble beginnings in 1967 as an associate degree being offered out of a 5,000-square-foot lab below the student cafeteria and dining room in Dulany Hall.

Fifty years later, it has ballooned to a program that offers a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and registered nurse to Master of Science in Nursing bridge program and many certificate programs out of the newly renovated 36,000-square-foot Johnston Hall Health Sciences building with state-of-the-art simulation labs and equipment.

The program also now offers students an honor society component, community service projects, mission trips abroad, individualized senior practicum to enhance clinical synthesis and small clinical learning groups.

The college offered the first nursing associate degree program in Delaware. The programs have earned recognition over the years, including being named top graduate nursing program in Delaware by U.S. News & World Report.

Recognized by Sigma Theta Tau International, Honor Society of Nursing Showcase of Regional Excellence Awards, and an End of Life Nursing Education Consortium Award for Wesley’s Palliative Care program, the school’s nursing department was most recently recognized as the top graduate nursing program in the state by TFE Times.

“One of the major advantages of our BSN program is that our students begin clinical in spring of their freshman year,” said Professor of Nursing and Chairman of the Nursing Department Dr. Robert Contino. “The state requires an RN education program to complete a minimum of 400 clinical hours — our program well exceeds this number. By the time our students complete the BSN degree they have completed 1,040 hours of clinical work.”

Deep roots

While the program attracts students from afar, its main applicant pool is still regional. The nursing program has sent deep roots into the state’s medical field and continues to do so. According to Dr. Contino, 115 of the current 143 senior, junior and sophomore nursing students are local (from Delmarva). From the graduating class of 2017, approximately 60 percent of the students are also employed locally. Many alumni end up at local institutions like Bayhealth Medical Center.

“The faculty at Wesley have been able to provide quality graduates; one way this was done was by working together to create a clinical preceptor program which has been in place for over eight years,” said Bayhealth President and CEO Terry Murphy.

“Thanks to Wesley, Bayhealth now benefits from multiple clinical nurse specialists in the organization. This has helped Bayhealth improve quality outcomes. We look forward to improving the future of health care utilizing the Wesley graduates.”

The program has alumni who have went on to many state-level associations as well.

“Our full-time faculty, as well as many of our adjuncts or part-timers, have been involved in state organizations related to nursing,” said Dr. Contino.

“We have had three of our faculty members serve as the president of the Delaware Nurses Association and two of our faculty members have served as the president of the Delaware Board of Nursing (the regulating body for nursing in the state). When the faculty are active in the state’s professional organizations and serve in leadership roles, it only enhances the relationships amongst our professional colleagues.”

Some students even end up back at the college teaching. Dr. Karen Panunto got her associate degree in nursing from Wesley College in 1995. She went on to earn her master’s degree in nursing from Wesley in 2001, a Doctorate of Education from Wilmington University in 2010 and a Post Master’s Certificate in Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist in 2017. She’s now a professor of nursing and BSN program director at the college. She feels that part of what makes Wesley’s program so successful is its “student focus.”

“Our students start clinical nursing courses in their freshmen year. This provides students with the opportunity to recognize their passion for nursing, or perhaps recognize early in their educational studies that nursing may not be the career field for them,” she said.

“Our students receive a quality education that emphasizes the promotion of health for individuals, families and communities.”

The future

Unsure of exactly what the next 50 years will hold for the program, Dr. Contino suspects that it will continue to change alongside the definition of “nurse,” just as it has done for the past 50 years.

“Technology is ever-changing in health care. Fifty years ago, a nurse was viewed as a person who assisted the physician in their work,” he said.

“Today, nursing is viewed as an autonomous profession and a valuable member of the health care team. In many instances they are the leaders of the team. We collaborate with other members of the health care team with a desire to improve outcomes for patients, their family and our communities. I believe that the nursing programs at Wesley College has served the citizens of our state, and our country well. We always strive for nursing excellence. While we don’t know what trends to expect in health care 50 years from now, our tradition of nursing excellence will continue for the next 50 years.”

The 18-month celebration of the program’s 50th year will include a fall and spring lecture series as well as anniversary and reunion events. For more information regarding the events contact Dr. Contino at robert.contino@wesley.edu or 302-736-2482.

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