By AUSTIN WOOD
Kennesaw State University’s nursing program has become as iconic as its black and gold banners, but like the university itself, it has not been without its growing pains.
Stemming from the 45-year history of the WellStar School of Nursing — with roots in rural northern Atlanta before the current university-based system — KSU’s nursing program is housed on the third floor of Prillaman Hall. Prillaman’s striking glass façade has earned it quite the reputation around the KSU campus, while the reach of its nursing program has made it well known beyond university borders and simultaneously made the building a competitive place to be.
Student documentation specialist Lillian Valdez handles clinical placement for KSU’s nurses and has grown intimately familiar with the program’s stringent curriculum. To be a KSU nurse is to complete dozens of courses once enrolled in the program — everything from pathophysiology and pharmacology to leadership and clinical practicum — and to do so with flying colors maintaining an A-plus GPA until graduation is a rather notorious requisite.
More impressive still is how many students turn to KSU for their medical education: Each semester brings an average of 800 applicants to a scant 100 slots, many of whom come from beyond Georgia’s borders or are non-traditional students. Valdez attributes this popularity to the program’s reputation among the metro-Atlanta area.
“We are considered one of the best for hospitals that are employing students, or for internships or recently graduated Bachelors of Science,” she said.
With such modifications as the 2009 addition of its research-focused Doctor of Nursing Science program, KSU has also been one of few universities to keep up with the rapidly changing standards of the nursing job market.
“Right now, folks in Georgia are said to be going toward only hiring Bachelors of Science in Nursing; some hospitals have already adopted that,” Valdez said.
Thanks to this competitive curriculum and, of course, the strict expectations graduates study under, Kennesaw nurses are “very respected and sought after” in both the Atlanta area and throughout the nation.
However, there is a more human element underlining KSU’s nursing success. For nearly a decade, Judy Brown-Allen, senior lecturer of sociology, served on a now-defunct interview board, which was formed near the end of 2004 to better profile prospective nursing students. In this time, she saw first-hand just how big a role the people of Kennesaw play; Brown-Allen believes the nursing interviews, in particular, filled a necessary gap.
“I think [the interview board] was great because it allowed us to see the students up-front and personal, to see how passionate they were about the program,” Brown-Allen said. “You can’t see that on paper.”
Indeed, test scores and GPAs only go so far. Brown-Allen describes a superb KSU nurse as someone dedicated to the profession, knowledgeable about the field and, perhaps above all, personable. Moreover, Brown-Allen believes scores and grades are far less important than the personality and drive of the individual.
“Some of the professors that are demanding that students have these A-plus averages to be a great nurse didn’t have those A-plus averages themselves,” she said. “I think it has more to do with the student’s passion and desire to become nurses than anything.
“I think you can have all B’s and be a fantastic nurse and do well on the test,” she said.
Similarly, Brown-Allen ultimately attributes the program’s success — particularly the fact that it has the highest pass rate of any Georgia nursing program — to the professors who guide it.
“I think the professors are phenomenal,” Brown-Allen said. “They are very passionate about the students getting through the program once they’re allowed in.
“They really mentor the students to make sure they do well.”