Between night shifts on a cardiology unit and counting pills at Brooks Pharmacy, nursing student Francesca O’Brien ’06 still finds time to study. But there is not time for much else.

“It’s a constant juggle between having a social life and doing well on the next exam,” said O’Brien.

Nursing students at Fairfield University must deal with a large workload, waking up at 5 a.m. for hospital clinicals, going to courses in which passing is 77 percent and up, and having back-to-back final exams in subjects such as Microbiology and Anatomy and Physiology.

“Since our failing grade is anything below a 77, so many girls end up just being on the border and have to work really hard to stay in the program,” said Kara O’Connell ’06. “If you fail one course, you are behind a whole year because you cannot move on without passing certain courses. I also feel like since we have clinicals, we have far less time to do anything else. We get one credit hour a week for eight hours in the hospital.”

The Connecticut State Board of Nurse Examiners in the State Department of Public Health requires student nurses to have direct care experiences working with patients. These experiences are referred to as “clinicals” and can take place in hospitals or community settings. The School of Nursing has nine courses with clinical requirements in each of the specialty areas, as well as in basic nursing care, said Philip Greiner, associate professor and director of the Health Promotion Center in the nursing school.

“The goal is to provide sufficient clinical experience for safe and effective nursing practice and for application of knowledge in direct care situations,” he said.

It is common for nursing students to be exposed to difficult scenes during hospital clinicals, including death and serious injuries.

“A 27-year-old man came into the emergency room by ambulance that was not breathing when the paramedics found him,” said O’Brien. “We performed CPR for over half an hour but could not save him.”

These situations have strong effects on the students.

“It’s difficult enough losing an older person who lived their life fully, but when someone that young dies, it really affects the entire staff,” said O’Brien.

O’Connell, who works at different local hospitals such as Greenwich, Stamford, Bridgeport Mental and Yale in addition to doing community work, has been exposed to death on the job as well.

“I saw a dead body once and we had to do the post-mortem care before the body was sent,” said O’Connell. “At first it was sad because we could hear the family crying while the patient was dying, and that was pretty emotional. But once we were with the body it was a little weird, almost like being at a wake.”

Nursing students enter the field for a variety of reasons. For O’Brien, it was the care she received from nurses when she was the patient. O’Brien knew she wanted to be a nurse around the beginning of her senior year in high school.

“I began to realize that nurses were there to help other people because they wanted to be,” said O’Brien. “I feel like that says so much about a person. I’ve learned that making a difference in one person’s life can be rewarding. I knew I could accomplish that if I became a nurse.”

Other students, such as Donna DeFeo ’06, have wanted to become nurses from an early age. DeFeo is an aspiring pediatric nurse.

“It’s just something I’ve wanted to do since I was 11, and I can’t see myself doing anything else,” said DeFeo.

The nursing students agree that Fairfield provides adequate preparation for their future career.

“To help us pass our NCLEX we have all our tests in the format,” said O’Connell.

The NCLEX is the national licensure exam that graduates of all entry-level nursing programs must successfully pass to practice nursing within a given state, said Greiner.

The courses are intense, and having different clinicals affords the students the opportunity to apply all the information they have learned in class to real life situations, according to O’Brien.

“Fairfield nursing students are very bright, thoughtful and kind,” said Carol Epstein, associate professor in the School of Nursing. “They bond with and support one another, and this depth of caring is translated to the care of the patient in multiple and meaningful ways.”

“Our students are special because of the commitment it takes to complete this nursing program while also being active in sports, campus activities and jobs,” said Greiner.

“The Fairfield nursing program promotes leadership development,” said Theresa Quell, assistant dean and undergraduate program director for the School of Nursing. “It is highly regarded among the nursing schools in the area.”

“Despite the late nights, really early clinicals and more pages to read in a week than some do in a lifetime, it’s great when you start making those connections,” said O’Brien.

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