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AMES, Iowa — The American Association of the Colleges of Nursing has collected extensive research that indicates higher nursing education makes a major difference in clinical outcomes.

Because DMACC is the largest nursing school in the state and most of its graduates stay local, presidents of both DMACC and ISU thought it was most fitting that Iowa State University add a BSN program. So they hired an experienced nurse and professor, Dr. Virginia Wangerin, to develop the curriculum. After a few years, they admitted their first class in the fall of 2018.

“Being the first class through I was really nervous. There is just a small group of us and anytime you’re the guinea pig for something you never know how it’s going to go,” soon-to-be graduate, Alaina Bonhert said. “But I think I knew right away when I met Dr. Wangerin and Dr. Bowker that I had a lot of faith in them and their ability to create an amazing nursing program. And every semester it just exceeded my expectations.”

After going through the approval processes and meeting with community stakeholders and health care providers, Dr. Wangerin knew she wanted the program to reflect the mission and value of Iowa State so nurses would know how to serve central Iowa. Alongside professor Dr. Dawn Bowker, she also wanted to teach these students to be nurses that didn’t just stick to the status quo, but ones who analyzed the problems in health care and worked to find solutions.

“Can we do something better for this person? Can we do this job better? Can we improve overall quality? Can we do something in our community, that will help our community? So all those kinds of things. What does the evidence say? Is this the best way to do this or can we do it better?” Dr. Wangerin said. “All those are questions that they didn’t know to ask. And now they’re not only asking them, they’re helping to answer them. So it’s been a very exciting journey.”

They also wanted the focus of the program to be population and wellness, which is exactly what students say they’re walking away knowing more about.

“I have learned so much about self-care and my goals. I learned so much about the nursing profession. It’s changed my perspective and how I take care of my patients, holistically. It has made me look at the big picture of being part of a hospital system,” soon-to-be graduate, Misty Brooks said.

Professor Dr. Bowker says other important things she stressed in her classroom were professionalism, diversity in nursing, and how individuals in different social situations can have certain determinants that affect their health outcomes. She said her fondest memory was a trip the program took to a Native American reservation in South Dakota. Not only did students get to learn something outside of the classroom, but they bonded as a program as well. Though it’s sad to watch them go, Dr. Bowker said she is so proud to watch her students graduate.

“Watching them grow, I get kind of emotional about that because it has been such a privilege to be on this journey with them,” Dr. Bowker said.

Five nurses will be graduating with their Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing this Saturday at Hilton Coliseum.

Dr. Bowker said next year ISU will be offering a clinical opportunity to go to Thailand and Cambodia. The BSN program will also be working with the Cambodian government to establish a well-child clinic that will be sustainable through Iowa State University and other partners in Utah and Cambodia.