Pellissippi State’s Nursing program graduates first class

Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise, at left, congratulates Kelly Nelson, recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Award in Nursing. Nelson is one of 29 members of the college's first Nursing class graduating May 4.

Commencement is just days away for Pellissippi State Community College’s first class of Nursing students.

Since the start of the program in fall 2010, students have balanced lectures, labs and clinical rotations each semester while preparing for the rigorous test that licenses and enables registered nurses to practice: the NCLEX-RN exam.

The students’ growth has impressed Pellissippi State’s dean of Nursing, Larry Goins.

“To see the confidence as they grow in this nursing program is just wonderful,” said Goins, a nursing educator of 20 years.

Most of the upcoming graduates are “non-traditional”—they range in age from 21-56. Theirs is a diverse group overall, says Goins. Most are parents, and one is a grandparent. Three students have bachelor’s degrees, one has a master’s, and several have other health-care certifications or licensures. Career changers are not uncommon in this group.

A trend is under way in the nursing profession: an increasing number of men are committed to working in the demanding profession. Of the 29 students in the college’s first graduating class, seven are male.

Kelly Nelson is the premier recipient of Pellissippi State’s Outstanding Graduate in Nursing Award.

Nelson, a 55-year-old retired firefighter and paramedic, started taking classes part time at the Hardin Valley Campus about four years ago. He moved to Vonore from Tucson, Ariz., after a 30-year career with the Tucson Fire Department.

A lifelong learner, Nelson already has associate’s degrees in fire science, paramedicine and liberal arts from Pima Community College. He also taught fire science as an adjunct faculty member for 15 years at Pima. He likes math and science, so he enrolled first in anatomy and physiology at Pellissippi State.

“After I took classes for probably a couple of semesters,” he said, “it just seemed like I was taking all the prerequisite courses for the Nursing program, and that was right up my alley because of my medical background in the fire department.

“It seemed like a good fit. My wife is a nurse, and I’ve got a daughter-in-law who is a nurse.”

When Pellissippi State announced the approval of the program in September 2009, Nelson decided to apply. There are nine nursing schools in the Knoxville area, but he applied only to Pellissippi State and says it has worked out great.

“I would have to say, as a group, I was concerned that I was going to be the oldest. I’m certainly one of the oldest,” he said. “The group is an older group, a lot of life experience and different careers and backgrounds.

“There are a couple of young people, but I think mostly it’s more experienced people—a diverse group, I would say, a very capable group, an enjoyable group of people.”

There are two sites for the Nursing program at Pellissippi State: the Magnolia Avenue Campus and the Blount County Campus. Both have state-of-the-art simulation laboratories. Every semester, students combine classroom lectures, lab work and clinical rotations.

The Nursing program arranged clinical rotations at 22 sites in eight counties for the first class. The variety gives students experience in a number of settings, with patients in rural and urban areas. Striking that balance prepares them to meet a range of needs and improves the students’ prospects for employment.

Pellissippi State admitted a group of 40 students for the first class. Twenty-nine are anticipated to take part in a private pinning ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 3, at the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the Hardin Valley Campus and in the Commencement ceremony at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena the next day at 7 p.m.

“That gives us a 73 percent rate of retention, which is really good for nursing,” said Goins. “Usually it’s about 50 percent for a nursing class.”

The next class begins fall semester, and it will be larger. Goins anticipates an incoming class of 60 students.

Learn more about Pellissippi State Community College’s Nursing program at www.pstcc.edu/departments/nursing or (865) 694-6400.