Mount Carmel College of Nursing: Changing to meet modern health care needs

The Catholic Times

September 19, 2010

By Tim Puet


Constant managed growth to adapt to health care needs has been a hallmark of Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Columbus in the 20 years since it began offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The college’s president, Ann Schiele, expects that pattern to continue in the current academic year with the introduction of several new programs.

“We’re excited about a number of opportunities the college will be able to give students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in the next few months,” said Schiele, who has been affiliated with the institution for 45 years.

“Beginning in January, we will be offering our fourth master’s degree-track program, designed to lead to certification of nurses as family nurse practitioners. This is in addition to our current master’s tracks for clinical nurse specialists, for nursing educators and for nursing administration.”

Nurse practitioners perform duties similar to those of a primary care physician. They provide primary care evidence-based services including routine physicals and health screenings, immunizations, and routine management of previously diagnosed disease conditions, provide acute care of routine non-emergent conditions, and promote health education. They can serve as a patient's chief health care provider, and see patients of all ages.

“As the health care reforms recently adopted by Congress go into effect, there’s a shortage of primary care physicians,” Schiele said. “Family nurse practitioners can help fill that void. This is a field in which a good deal of growth is anticipated. Physicians in the Mount Carmel Health system are very supportive of this, and several are willing to serve as preceptors,” a term referring to physicians or other nurse practitioners who give practical experience and training to students.

Applications for the family nurse practitioner program will be taken after Oct. 15. Applicants will be required to have approximately 700 hours of clinical nursing experience.

The college is converting about 3,000 square feet of leased office space across from its building on the Mount Carmel West campus into a nurse-managed care center. The clinic will be directed by Dr. Dana Vallangeon, a physician who has worked for several years within the Franklinton community, and Mount Carmel faculty member Kimberly Greene.

Vallangeon is affiliated with the Lower Lights Christian Health Center, a nondenominational organization founded by members of the Bellows Avenue Church of the Nazarene.

“Dr. Dana’s practice has a large waiting list,” Schiele said “Working with her will be a great opportunity for many qualified faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates to care for people in an everyday setting and to create health education programs for them.” She said this will be the first college-based nurse-managed care center in Columbus and one of the few to be found anywhere in the United States.

“Dr. Dana is a very spiritual person and a wonderful physician whose services are very important to the community,” Schiele said. “We’re hoping the nursing center will be able to care for as many as 100 patients a week once it becomes fully operational.

“Many of Dr. Dana’s patients are people with congestive heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory problems. We want to develop opportunities for wellness education which will help patients reach an optimal state of health while providing practical experience for graduate and undergraduate students.”

“Dr. Schiele approached me with the idea for the center after she learned of my work in the community, and it’s been a wonderful thing,” Dr. Vallangeon said. “The Lower Lights center sees about 5,000 patients a year for about 17,000 total visits and is out of space. The wait for a new patient is now four to six weeks, but the new facility will cut that to one or two.

“It will be a situation where everybody wins. It works to our advantage to be able to see more patients more quickly, and it will work to Mount Carmel’s advantage because they can train more teachers for undergraduate and graduate nurses at a time when there’s a great shortage of nursing educators.”

Schiele anticipates that the college soon will be offering an online program which would enable registered nurses to complete their requirements for a bachelor of science degree in nursing. It already offers a traditional RN-BSN completion program on campus. “We hope to begin the online RN-BSN completion program in early 2011,” she said. “Our commitment is to ensure the high quality of our education for online students and to continue to integrate our mission and core Catholic values within the program, both online and face-to-face.”

Besides offering these additional programs for 2010-11, the college has issued a strategic plan for the following three academic years, through the middle of 2014. Trustees approved the plan on Sept. 8. Schiele said it addresses academic excellence, financial stability, infrastructure, and growth.

“One important part of our plan is that it is focused on enhancing the skills and abilities of our faculty and staff,” Schiele said. “This institution centers on its students, and as it continues to grow, it needs to have outstanding personnel to meet the changing needs of the nursing profession and the health needs of the people of Columbus and the surrounding area.”

The college is located adjacent to Mount Carmel West Hospital, in the building known for Eric Grohe’s 50-foot mural “Dedication,” which features a depiction of health care workers surrounded by figures representing knowledge and compassion.

It has been affiliated with Mount Carmel Health, the only Catholic healthcare system in the Columbus area, since 1903. For most of its history, it was known as a nursing school rather than a college because its academic offerings were limited to nurses’ training courses.

That changed in 1990, when it began granting college degrees. It now has accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education.

Besides offering the four master’s degree programs, it awards the bachelor of science degree in nursing upon completion of one of four tracks: traditional pre-licensure, a 13-month second-degree accelerated program, the RN-BSN completion program, and an advanced placement program.

The college also offers a nine-month dietetic internship that provides the pre-professional practice needed to qualify for the dietetic registration examination for dietitians administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and conducts online nurse refresher courses for licensed registered nurses who wish to return to health care after leaving the profession for a few years.

In addition to its program in Columbus, the college has expanded to offer a satellite program at Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster and has forged partnerships for nursing education with Ohio Dominican University, Lake Erie College, Ohio University-Lancaster, the University of Findlay, and Wilmington College.

Its first class of students in 1990 had 36 members. The college grew steadily in the next 20 years and today has about 820 students, most of them undergraduates. Schiele said that puts it among the top 10 percent of colleges of nursing nationwide (in enrollment) offering undergraduate pre-licensure nursing programs. In Ohio, only Kent State University’s college of nursing has more students.

The percentage of male students at the college is now about 10 percent, and minority enrollment is approximately 11 percent. “The college embraces an inclusive community of students, faculty, and staff,” Schiele said.

Most Mount Carmel students are from central Ohio, but construction of two resident apartment facilities adjacent to the college has allowed more people from out of state and elsewhere to attend. The apartments house a total of 144 students.

Schiele said that as the nation’s health care programs grow because of an aging population and new federal mandates, the college will grow with them.

“I think that in five to 10 years, enrollment at the college will be in the 1,200 to 1,300 range,” she said. “I envision we will be offering more master’s degree programs to go with our strong baccalaureate program, along with some degrees for allied health careers, such as physical therapists and lab technicians.

“We will continue to keep our pulse on the state of the nursing profession and to be a leader in nursing education,” said Schiele. “We are dedicated to maintaining our outstanding academic excellence and meeting the needs of the community we serve.”

The college has open houses scheduled once a month on Wednesdays and once every other month on Mondays. Times and dates for the next two open houses are 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, and 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20. For more information, contact the college at (614) 234-4266 or (800) 556-6942 or go to its website, www.mccn.edu.

20 Years of growth

The Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Columbus started with a handful of students in 1990. Two decades later, it has become the second-largest institution of its type in Ohio and one of the top 10 percent in enrollment nationwide.

Students currently enrolled at the college said that growth has come because the college has gained a reputation among nurses for the quality of its instruction and because those entering Mount Carmel know that from the start, their classes will emphasize training specifically related to nursing.

“The nurses I’ve known said the instructors here are really thorough and give good advice,” said Ashli Temple, a freshman from Sunbury who is studying to be a nurse practitioner. “Many of them said this was a great school to go to, and that’s why I chose Mount Carmel.”

“I worked at Mount Carmel West Hospital (which is adjacent to the school) for five years as an emergency medical technician. I also was a firefighter for Jefferson and Washington townships, so those jobs gave me lots of opportunities to see the professionalism of the faculty and how well-prepared graduates of the college are,” said Kevin Ahman, who is in the college’s accelerated program for students who already have obtained a college degree.

“Besides what I saw, I knew nurses really liked the program’s connection with the Mount Carmel Health system and how that enabled them to combine class discussion and practical experience,” he said. Ahman has a degree in economics from The Ohio State University. Being part of the accelerated program will enable him to obtain his bachelor of science degree in nursing in 13 months. After that, he plans to either become a critical-care nurse or attend graduate school.

Lucas Halliday, a freshman from Columbus who hopes to be a nurse anesthetist, transferred to Mount Carmel after attending Ohio State for a year. “One reason for transferring is because when you’re accepted at Mount Carmel, you know right away you’re in the nursing program,” he said. “At university-based nursing schools, you have to take prerequisite courses in your first year or two, and you may or may not be admitted to the nursing program after that.

“The transfer allowed me to know with certainty that when I graduated, it would be with the degree I wanted for the type of work I want to do.”

Mount Carmel currently has about 820 students, making it the state’s largest hospital-based nursing college, second statewide only to Kent State University in total nursing enrollment. That was important to Christian Graves, a junior neonatal nursing student from Canton. “The size of the school was a big factor,” she said. “I knew a school that large would have multiple opportunities. The link to a hospital also was important because I think it’s given me more opportunity for hands-on training and working in rotation with doctors and nurses seeing patients.”

Graves also has taken advantage of several of the opportunities the college offers to work with community members outside the classroom. These include the Camp Mount Carmel program for high school students and the Girls Life program for girls ages nine through 13.

The four-day camp is conducted at the college in early June. It is for students interested in all aspects of medicine and includes field trips to Mount Carmel Health facilities and shadowing of medical professionals while they are seeing patients and performing operations.

Girls Life takes place four times a year and is designed to help preteen girls understand the changes they are going through at this time of their lives. Graves said about 160 girls can participate in each of the programs, which usually are sold out and have a waiting list.

“One thing I’ve come to realize about nurses is that they do a lot more than they’re given credit for,” she said. “They usually spend much more time with patients than doctors. They can’t diagnose illnesses, but they’re the ones who do most of the planning to help a patient recover and serve as the patient’s principal advocate.”

“A nurse teaches, tells patients what to do that will be most helpful in enabling them to resume normal activity more quickly, explains to them how and when to take their medicines, and generally knows more about a patient than anyone,” Ahman said. “Since the nurse is constantly monitoring patients, he or she usually is the first one to realize when a patient may be having unexpected problems or is showing improvement.”

Nursing traditionally has been known as a profession for women, but the number of male students in nursing programs has been showing a steady gain and now represents about 10 percent of the total nationwide. “That perception of it being ‘women’s work’ never has been a problem for me,” Halliday said. “My friends in high school might have teased me a little about becoming a nurse, but I’ve known ever since I had a chance to take part in a shadowing program that this is what I wanted to do.”

“There aren’t a lot of strictly feminine or masculine values in nursing,” said Ahman. “It’s mostly about the basic human values involved in caring for people. Most of those outside the nursing profession don’t fully realize all that a nurse does. Once they do, the stereotypes go away.”

Catie Maurer Baack, an assistant professor at Mount Carmel, described nursing as being somewhat of a countercultural profession today. “In a ‘me’ culture, nurses are entering a profession where others are important, and that put them at odds with much of the rest of society,” she said.

“It’s not a profession you want to get into if you don’t like people,” said Dr. Ann Schiele, president of the college. “You’re caring for people in the most vulnerable moments of their lives, and that’s what motivates most nurses I know. The money isn’t important. The difference a nurse can make in someone’s life is what counts.”

“One thing nursing students don’t fully realize until they start learning more about the profession is that nurses spend a great deal of time just being with people rather than doing things with them,” said Angie Phillips-Lowe, associate dean for the college’s graduate nursing program. She described the nurse and patient as “partners in a journey toward wellness.”

“Because nurses are caring people, there’s a constant danger of burnout in the profession,” Maurer Baack said. “You think a lot about the things you might have left undone or may have done better. There’s a sense that your work is never done. But there are also mini-miracles you see each day. These are the things which come through a patient’s improvement, or in seeing the ‘light bulb’ come on in his eyes when he understands how he can promote his own recovery. That’s what keeps me coming back.”

“I don’t know of another profession where you can do so many things with a degree,” Schiele said. “I could name 100 different areas of the medical profession where I could go with a baccalaureate degree. There has never been a better time to pursue a career in nursing, especially in long-term care, as the nation’s population ages, and in the field of nursing education.”

The need for nurse educators is shown in a survey taken by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in 2008 which found that nearly 50,000 qualified applications were not accepted at schools of nursing that year, mostly because of a shortage of trained faculty. Five-eighths of the schools responding to the survey said a lack of faculty kept them from accepting more students.

“Our master’s programs give people a chance to get the training they need to be qualified educators members and to do it locally, so they’ll want to stay here,” Schiele said. “This is one way we’re trying to help ease that shortage.”

Besides its reputation, one thing that attracts students to Mount Carmel is its Catholic tradition. Campus chaplain Pete McClernon said that although the school does not know how many of its students are Catholics or belong to another religious tradition, that number undoubtedly is substantial, based on the knowledge he has gained about students in 17 years at the college.

“It’s a rare student who comes here and says he or she wants to make money,” he said. “Their conviction is that they want to help people, or they want to do something good because of something good that was done to them.

“I also think students have become more introspective in the time I’ve been here. I teach a course called The Individual and Religion to all freshmen and ask them to talk about their lives, and as young as they are, some of them have lived through some pretty chaotic experiences. It can get very emotional.”

“You can tell from seeing how many students come in and are ready to get involved in community service work that it’s been part of their life for some time,” Phillips-Lowe said. “That’s especially true with the Catholic students, for whom it’s been a staple all through elementary and high school.

“Catholic spirituality is something you see everywhere here. We start all our ceremonies with prayer and reflection, and we form prayer chains whenever there’s an occasion of joy or sorrow. It’s what makes us uniquely different from public institutions and provides an extra dimension of patient care.”