University of Wyoming's BRAND Gets a Boost

Five $10,000 nursing scholarships may seem like a drop in the bucket to some, but for University of Wyoming’s Associate Lecturer Carrie Deselms, coordinator of Bachelors Reach for Accelerated Nursing Degree (BRAND), it “is significant.” 

The announcement that the Fay Whitney School of Nursing was awarded this first wave of scholarships from NCIN through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sent a ripple effect across the state and started the School of Nursing’s phone ringing with congratulations from legislators, boards of trustees, members from the university, and the health care acute facilities feeling the impact of a strained health care workforce.

“Wyoming is usually behind the rest of the country,” points out Deselms who says she doesn’t “remember a time when I wasn’t a nurse.  “Thus, our nursing shortage has not yet peaked and will only get worse before it gets better.  At the same time, that means students have a world wide open in the state.”

Intent on attracting the widest pool of qualified students, the School embarked on an intensive summer tour of the entire state, dropping in on hospitals, and fearlessly leveraging media, community and Webinar outreach to get the word out.  Those efforts paid off as the accelerated program now has more men and more minorities enrolled.

State legislators, impressed by the School’s diligence and the BRAND, offered an additional five $25,000 loan repayments to the program.  “These two sources enable us to recruit aggressively, and the result,” notes Dean Mary Burman, “has enabled us to also bring in nontraditional students.  That means a lot to us."

Home to a fairly small but diverse population of 500,000, geographically, Wyoming is expansive.  To literally close the distance gap for students who often are juggling families, Deselms says, “We try and take this program to the state and not make students come to campus fulltime.”  Faculty live around the state, and clinicals can be conducted in the students’ hometown where community and public health opportunities abound. Technology like video conferences, hybrid and online classes also help with distant learning.  And, for those who have to travel for clinicals, the funding helps scholars with overnight lodging. Because the group is small enough, says Deselms, faculty can also provide one-on-one coursework counseling, mentoring and moral support.

Eli Ghorton, an NCIN scholar enrolled in his second year of the BRAND program, is beginning to understand such demands and opportunities of a second degree in nursing.  Upon his graduation from the University of Northern Colorado with a B.S. in kinesiology, Ghorton actively worked as an ambulance EMT.  It was under these extraordinary circumstances that he had his first exposure to nursing.

“I realized that nurses have the majority of patient contact; it is a massive undertaking!  I would see nurses in every situation- from acute care to at-home care or even legal work,” Ghorton says. With such a presence in all aspects of care setting, the scholar came to find that nursing is, “a field where you have to have just as much knowledge as compassion.”

Through his experiences as an EMT and as an intern in Colorado’s intensive care unit, Ghorton applied to the University of Wyoming with a new desire to study nursing.  With the help of his NCIN scholarship, Ghorton has been able to pursue this accelerated degree at Wyoming- a program which allows time to study the art of fatherhood with his new daughter Sophie, who has become a “mascot” for the scholars. 

What distinguishes accelerated scholars like Ghorton, notes Deselms, is their desire to “change health care policy, not just statewide but nationwide.”  That spark perhaps was ignited by the ’08 student cohorts’ interaction with policy influentials on a recent visit to their state legislatures and at school leadership forums, compounded by an essay assignment asking what one thing would change health care policy in Wyoming for the better.

“The positive feedback got everyone excited,” she notes. “The students felt, yes we can make a difference… They are all single minded in their determination to reach their nursing goal.  They are looking to give back to their communities.”

Reflecting on his experiences and relationships in the program, Ghorton comments about where his nursing degree will take him in the future.  “After graduation I would like to apply to be a family nurse practitioner, but even more so, I hope to one day become a clinical instructor.  It is important to me that I become the kind of nurse that my peers, professors and the NCIN program all believe I can be.”