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First, Fast, and 100% Phenomenal: Inaugural GCU A.B.S.N. Cohort Receives Their Pins

the first cohort of A.B.S.N. graduates recites the blessing of the hands at their pinning ceremony

Nursing’s pinning ceremony, which acknowledges students’ successful completion of program work, has been a rite of passage for well over a century.  In February, 18 students in the first cohort of the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (A.B.S.N.) program offered by the Georgian Court–Hackensack Meridian Health School of Nursing kept that tradition. But they did so with a modern, meaningful twist. Instead of faculty members pinning students, the students—all of whom began and ended the program together, at a 100 percent graduation rate—pinned each other.

“You are all standing tall and strong, ready to pass your [registered nurse] licensing exam,” said Teri Wurmser, Ph.D., the nursing school’s dean, at the February 15 ceremony. “Everyone stayed with the program, which is quite remarkable for any class, and I believe it was a result of your support for each other. You pulled each other through many challenges . . . and had the support of your faculty, family, and friends.”

Joan Harvey, D.N.P., professor-in-residence and director of the A.B.S.N. program, describes the class this way: “These students were all very bright and very competitive, but they came together as a family. They wanted it very much, often for very different reasons, but they willed their way through an extremely difficult program—four years of nursing school in 14 months. They were also the most respectful, most flexible class I’ve had in nearly 20 years of teaching and 38 years as a nurse.”

It was also a very diverse cohort, with almost half of them men in a traditionally female-populated occupation. There were older students with families; those who entered the program directly from earning their bachelor’s degree; and academic or work backgrounds including computer science, mental health fields, and the military.

The 18 members of the first A.B.S.N. cohort
The 18 graduates of the first cohort of the A.B.S.N. program

An Accelerated Demand for B.S.N.s

Georgian Court’s accelerated nursing program is helping to fill a void at a very critical time, said Theresa Brodrick, RN, Ph.D., NE-BC, executive vice president and system chief nursing executive, Hackensack Meridian Health, and a member of the GCU Board of Trustees. “We’ve had nursing shortages before, but the one we’re facing is different than the others,” she said. The combination of baby boomer retirees and the pandemic’s catastrophic effect of nursing burnout is draining the profession rapidly and in large numbers, not just in New Jersey, but nationally.

“Accelerated programs are in demand because in a relatively short period of time, they quickly provide qualified nurses to fill vacancies,” said Dr. Brodrick. Hospitals are rebuilding their nursing staffs, and one way Hackensack Meridian Health is considering doing so is through scholarships at eight A.B.S.N. programs in New Jersey, including the one at Georgian Court. The hospital system is aiming to use these scholarships, which are associated with a three-year work commitment, to fill about 300 registered nursing positions by 2025.

Dr. Brodrick cites other reasons A.B.S.N. graduates are valued. “They bring perspective from other fields, and they enter this very demanding program with the mindset that they want to be nurses,” she said.

A Pledge, Pins, and Pride

The ceremony was attended by more than 125 people—faculty, administrators, family, and friends—who applauded the first A.B.S.N. cohort’s professional rite of passage.

Dr. Joan Harvey speaks at the A.B.S.N. pinning ceremony
Dr. Joan Harvey, director of the A.B.S.N. program, offered some of her signature “Harvey’s Helpful Hints” to the new graduates.

Remarks from GCU Provost Janice Warner, Dean Wurmser, and Dr. Harvey underscored the students’ resilience and accomplishments, with the A.B.S.N. director taking a final official opportunity to offer some of her renowned “Helpful Harvey Hints.” Among them: never forget the “why” you came into the profession; remember the principles of practice that you’ve learned; and there may be a time where the only thing you can do is be present with a patient or family.

Yitzchok “Zak” Manies, the student speaker and recipient of the Richard Hader Academic Excellence Award, described a student journey that was “intense, demanding, and profound.” During the times he felt overwhelmed, “I recognized that I had a support system in place. I learned to rely on faculty, my colleagues, and my family to help me through the difficult times.” About his classmates, Zak said, “From the beginning, we formed a cohesive unit, supporting one another, refusing to accept any failure, and ultimately rejoicing in each other’s successes.”

Esther Gibaldi, described as the student who kept the others in the cohort on track and together, received the John K. Lloyd B.S.N. Graduate Nurse Leadership Award. The award is given to the student who has demonstrated strong leadership potential and taken a leadership role within the school.

As the students, row by row, stood and pinned each other, each briefly said which person or persons to whom they dedicated their nurse’s pin. Spouses, children, parents, and friends received many warm words of appreciation. Sabrina Muscato’s dedication included her late father. “Although he could not be here with me, I know he is beaming from Heaven.” Lauren Desmond’s dedication celebrated a family legacy of nursing. “I am dedicating this pin to my mother,” she said. “Being a nurse for 30 years, she has molded me into a loving, smart, and independent young woman.”

To close the program, Yitzchok Mehlman led the students in two traditional nurses’ recitations: a “Blessing of the Hands” and the Nightingale Pledge, written in 1893, which demonstrates nurses’ commitment to professionalism and patient care.

First A.B.S.N. Graduates Leave Lasting Impression

The pinning ceremony, while a meaningful tradition, doesn’t represent the end of the cohort’s journey before entering their profession as registered nurses. They must first pass a licensure exam, for which Dean Wurmser expressed confidence that they would “stand tall and strong ready.”

Even after they pass, there’s more. This first A.B.S.N. cohort at Georgian Court–Hackensack Meridian Health School of Nursing has “raised the bar” for following cohorts, said Lisa Wardle, A.B.S.N. program coordinator. “They taught us, too,” said Ms. Wardle, explaining that initially, a college chemistry course was not a prerequisite for the program. “Students in this first cohort said, ‘Yes, it really would be helpful to have had a chem prerequisite, especially for those who have been out of college for a time.’ We listened and made the change. They also suggested that a brief decompression time between sessions would have helped them, instead of five back-to-back 10-week sessions. We listened again. Their influence will be felt in our program for a very long time.”

Dr. Brodrick believes GCU’s first A.B.S.N. cohort will share the positive traits of nurses who graduate from Georgian Court.

“They enter the profession well prepared—they are exceptional students,” she said. “And I would tell them the same thing I say to all new nurses: Nursing is a wonderful profession that offers incredible opportunities. I hope they love it as much as I do.” 

Click here for more photos of the February 15 A.B.S.N. pinning ceremony,

Story contributed by freelance writer Sheila Noonan. Photos by Jim Connolly.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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