Nursing Graduates Achieve Personal Dreams

Dalyn Ford

Dalyn Ford

Dalyn Ford and Michelle Avant were two of the first 14 graduates of the rural nursing program at USC Salkehatchie, earning their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees from the USC College of Nursing this May. “I’m proud because we were the first graduating class,” says Avant. “We were all really close, and we relied on each other and were there for each other the whole way.” Of those first 14 graduates, 10 have already found jobs in the nursing profession, the majority within the local area. Avant returned to Colleton Regional Medical Center, where she worked as a computer tech before she ever entered nursing school, as an ER nurse. Ford took a position with Allendale County Hospital, where she works on the floor with admitted patients and in the ER. “It’s like a community here,” Ford says of her hospital. “Once you start working in a small hospital, you get to know everybody, even the patients and their families. I like to feel like I can make a difference, and I get to do that.” That concept of making a difference in these rural communities, many of which are underserved medically and face severe nursing shortages, was the guiding principal behind the development of this nursing program when the first grant was written more than five years ago. “This is a multidimensional public/private effort aimed at putting more people to work in health care,” says Ann Carmichael, dean of USC Salkehatchie. “It addresses the rural nursing shortage, puts people to work in higher pay-ing jobs, and offers opportunities for students who can’t leave their communities because of personal obligations.” Allendale County Hospital served as the lead on a grant to The Duke Endowment (TDE) that helped establish the program, and the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation soon offered substantial support as well. Mary Piepenbring, vice president of TDE, says the Endowment had many reasons for supporting the effort. “We believe this partnership is helping to improve the quality of nursing care and creating career opportunities in rural areas,” she says. “By removing educational barriers for local students, the program will ultimately strengthen the communities where they live and work.” Local hospitals, physicians, and private citizens stepped up to equip clinical labs and provide scholarship support for the students, who spend two years as Salkehatchie students and two years as Columbia students. Coursework and clinicals are completed in the region, with the hope that students who experience the local hospitals will return to work there once they graduate, as did Avant and Ford. “We are very pleased to have been a part of the start up of this program and to have the opportunity to hire two nurses from the first graduating class,” says Ken Hiatt, administrator of Allendale County Hospital. “It has already, and will continue, to address one of the more critical needs of the health care industry, especially for hospitals. Allendale County Hospital, as well as our neighboring communities, will certainly benefit from the future graduates of this pro-gram. Students from our local area are much more likely to gain entrance to the program, and then much more likely to stay, live, and work in our rural hospitals and other medical facilities. It is a win-win program for all.” Avant worked as a nurse tech at Colleton Regional the last year of nursing school, then became an ER nurse after earning her license in June. She says the bachelor’s program at Salkehatchie prepared her well, though she admits the newfound level of responsibility can be intimidating. “You’re giving medications and making life and death decisions, especially in the emer-gency room,” she says. “You get paranoid be-cause you have somebody’s life in your hands. But I love what I do… we get to stabilize patients and make a really huge differ-ence in how that patient progresses.” Both Avant and Ford say the presence of this nursing program at Salkehatchie made it possible for them to balance school with their other obligations. For both women, becoming nurses and being able to help their neighbors in need is the fulfillment of a personal dream. “Anything is possible,” says Avant. “I am living proof of that. If you set your mind to something, don’t give up. You’ll amaze yourself with what you can do sometimes.” Cindy McClure, director of the nurs-ing program at Salkehatchie, says “Mi-chelle not only graduated with honors while working full time and managing a family, but endured quite a few personal struggles during her nursing pathway. She was a key player in the USC Salkehatchie Nursing Society and Student Nurses Association. I have high expectations that Michelle will excel in her career. She has already mentioned that she wants to return to grad school so that she can teach within a nursing program.” Allendale County Hospital RN and Director of Nursing Services Becky Rowell says the program and Ford have been a blessing for this rural hospital. “Dalyn has been a wonderful asset to us,” says Rowell. “She has come out of the program with all the skills she needs to adapt to the facility and our needs. We hope she plans to take advantage of all the opportunities this hospital has to offer.”

 

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