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Date: Wed, Feb 17th, 2021

Applications for Great Falls College health science programs open

Applications are now open for those looking to go into health science programs at Great Falls College.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – 2020 could have meant Code Red for Great Falls College MSU's nursing program.

Instead, the nursing program had perhaps its best-ever year.

Two words come to mind for program director Lauren Swant: Thank you.

The twenty-three 2020 registered nurse graduates passed their boards at the highest rate ever, 91.3 percent, beating the national average of 87.53 percent and the state average of 89.29 percent.

The sixteen practical nurses that graduated in 2020 passed their boards at 87.5%, beating the national average of 83.09 percent and the state average of 86.58 percent.

It wasn't easy as the students, staff and faculty members had to move swiftly to remote learning and many clinical sites and laboratories closed to students last spring when the COVID-19 hit.

"Many local partners shuttered their doors when the pandemic first hit but have found ways to open back up – and safely," Swant said. "We are so grateful to those who have found ways to open back up so our students can learn and become the best nurses they can be by gaining real-world experience, but we also completely understand that some facilities just can't open back up due to COVID concerns."

Swant said the 2021 RN graduates should be in position to build on the success of the 2020 class as the students – knock on wood -- will be able to finish instruction in-person. Also, Swant and the faculty will be able to capitalize on some of the silver linings that came from the pandemic as they found creative ways to instruct their students and stay connected with study sessions leading up to the board exams.

"I am really excited to see how they do," Swant said. "We have had a really good year in both the RN and PN programs. As we all have seen over the course of the last year, the world really needs more high-quality nurses, and I am so excited at the prospect of turning out some amazing nurses in just a few months to help fill the void."

She also is looking forward to getting the pandemic in the rearview mirror.
"The clinical facilities did a fantastic job of creating safe working environments and we provided PPE for students and instructors. None of our students contracted COVID while at clinicals or labs, and our students have not spread it to other students, faculty, or patients," Swant said. "Still, we are optimistic with the roll out of the vaccines and continued dedication to minimizing the risk of spread, that life will be getting back to normal for this fall."

She is hopeful the incoming class of nursing students will reap all of the benefits learned from the pandemic while experiencing only minor impacts of the craziness.

Applications for the college's competitive health programs – both registered and practical nursing, respiratory therapy, dental hygiene, dental assisting, paramedic and physical therapy assistant open up on Feb. 15.

Students in Great Falls College's two-year registered nursing program take their classes on campus, while practical nursing students have the option of taking their coursework on campus or online. Practical nursing students also have the option to take the one-year program part time over the course of two years so they can fit it around their lives.

"Taking it part time is a great option for perhaps someone who is working as a certified nursing assistant in a rural hospital and would like to upskill but doesn't have the option of moving or quitting their job," Swant said. "They can take their coursework with us online, continue working and complete their labs and clinicals in their hometown health care facility."

It wasn't just the Great Falls health care facilities who opened to help students.

"We have students in Browning, Cut Bank, Columbus and other rural partners," Swant said. "But we also have students at Alluvion, Benefis, Great Falls Clinic, The Ivy, pediatric offices, outpatient clinics, everywhere. We can't thank our many partners who are continuing to allow our students access enough."

One partner, Premier Care Pediatrics in Great Falls, pointed out it's necessary.

"As an independent provider, Premier Care Pediatrics, has been in a unique position during the pandemic to not only meet the needs of our patients during the pandemic but also help support the training of nursing students in our community, said Lindsey Logan-Olaso, RN manager for Premier Care Pediatrics. "The nursing program at Great Falls College MSU is a critical element in assuring the education and training of students in our region at a time when there is a critical nursing shortage. We recognize the strain and challenges that the program has faced and It has been a pleasure to partner with the nursing program at Great Falls College to meet this ongoing need while welcoming new nurses into the medical community."

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