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SVC Department of Nursing establishedSub-Headline: Evolution and history of Nursing at SVC

By: Tanner Adomaitis, Staff Writer

Originally Published November 14, 2023

The history of Nursing at Saint Vincent College (SVC) dates all the way back to 1911, when the Latrobe Hospital School of Nursing opened. SVC entered the scene in 1940, where classes in Chemistry were taught through 1943. In 1948, SVC partnered with the Latrobe Hospital School of Nursing and began offering courses in Chemistry, Microbiology, Anatomy and Physiology, Sociology, and English.

Not long after, in 1954, the Westmoreland Hospital School Anesthesia for Nurses was founded and joined with Latrobe Hospital to become the Westmoreland-Latrobe Hospitals’ School of Anesthesia in 1965. In 1971, the final class of the Latrobe Hospital School of Nursing graduated and in 2006, the Westmoreland Hospital School of Anesthesia became Excela Health School of Anesthesia and formed a joint graduate level program with SVC. Seven years later, in 2013, SVC added the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) degree.

(SOURCE: SVC INSTAGRAM) Dr. Helen K. Burns, Professor and Chair of the Department of Nursing.

In 2018, the DNAP became a doctoral entry program and beginning in 2020, the degree was granted to graduates entering the program. Between then, in 2019, the Carlow-SVC Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program admitted its first students.

Now, in 2023, SVC established its own Department of Nursing within the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Computing and will enroll its first class in the fall of 2024.

Dr. Helen K. Burns, Professor and Chair of the Department of Nursing, leads the implementation of the program. Burns began her education at the Latrobe Hospital School of Nursing before Graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) with her BSN. She then received her Masters and PhD in Medical Surgical Nursing from the University of Pittsburgh.

After completing her education, Burns worked in critical care and emergency trauma, nursing administration, moved into public health and worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Health as the Director of the Bureau of Community Health Systems, then as the Deputy Secretary for Health Planning and Assessment for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Burns then entered academics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing as the Associate Dean for Clinical Education. She transitioned out of academics back into a clinical setting at Excela Health (now Independence Health) as the system nurse executive before returning to academics at SVC.

“It is a fabulous opportunity both professionally and personally to help build this program. The goal is to create a premier nursing program and that it will be a program for the future,” Burns said. “Saint Vincent is committed to educating future generations of nurses. I want to make sure the program will prepare them to have the same and even more opportunities than what I have had.”

Burns aims to achieve the goals for the nursing programs, by incorporating Benedictine values and building on the history of Nursing. Burns explained that SVC’s BSN program will be integrated with the existing DNAP program and pull the programs together to possibly expand into other degrees.

“We are seeking to create graduates who make a difference in their own lives and out in the world in the lives of others,” Burns said. “I think Saint Vincent is going to be a sought-after Nursing program.”

The program just recently received approval from the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing, and with the approval, the program can be marketed, and students can be recruited to it. Once the first class is enrolled, the program will seek accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the “golden standard” of baccalaureate and higher education.

The curriculum of the new program will include the SVC Core Curriculum and be built on national standards. Other courses include Foundations of Public Health, a course on Genetics and Precision Health, on the Application of Data Analytics, Informatics and Healthcare Technology, and a professional nursing immersion that will cover leadership in Nursing and building a Senior Capstone project.

“The essence will be a liberal education, Benedictine hallmarks, and coursework that will prepare nursing students for their role as a professional, as a clinician, and as a leader,” Burns said. “Those are the threads that we are weaving throughout the curriculum.”

The curriculum will also feature micro-credentials, which will give students education in specialty practice embedded in the coursework. The students will receive a certificate of specialized training that will be displayed on their college transcript. A few examples would be certificates in patient safety, palliative and end of life care, diversity, equity, and inclusion, emergency preparedness and disaster nursing, and in organizational excellence in quality and safety.

“These are just pockets of extra specialty training and education so that when students go out for their first job, they will be able to demonstrate to a potential employer that they have participated in this education,” Burns said. “It will be a strong part of the curriculum.”


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