Vanderbilt Nursing graduates told “the world needs you more than ever”

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Dean Linda D. Norman, DSN, RN, FAAN, told Class of 2020 nursing graduates that while the current COVID-19 pandemic disrupted end-of-year activities, it put advanced practice nurses like the new graduates in the world’s spotlight.

“People see nurses risking their well-being to help desperately ill people. They see nurses solving problems and providing quality, necessary health care. World leaders, government officials, media, and the public recognize the need for well-prepared, educated nurses in our health care system at all levels,” Norman said. “The world needs you more than ever.”

Norman, who is also the Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing, spoke to graduates in a video address posted to the school’s Commencement site and YouTube. Following public health guidance regarding health and safety, Vanderbilt University postponed its in-person Commencement activities until May 2021. At that time, the Class of 2020 graduates will return to campus for a special formal ceremony and events.

The 2020 VUSN class included 328 Master of Science in Nursing and 70 Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates. An additional three PhD in Nursing Science graduates were honored in Vanderbilt Graduate School ceremonies. Because VUSN students finish their programs at different times of the year, the 2020 class was made up of graduates who finished their nursing programs in August 2019, December 2019 and May 2020.

The Founder’s Medal for the School of Nursing was awarded to Jane M. Mericle, DNP’20. An experienced nurse leader and chief nursing officer, Mericle was a member of VUSN’s first Executive Leadership cohort in its Doctor of Nursing Practice program. Her doctoral scholarly project focused on professional well-being for nurse managers. It implemented a LEAN improvement approach to developing strategies that could improve professional well-being of front-line nurse managers; the project can be adapted to other health care organizations.

The School of Nursing’s video address also included celebratory remarks from VUSN’s senior associate deans and academic specialty directors.

Senior Associate Dean for Academics Mavis Schorn, PhD, APRN, CNM, FACNM, FAAN, FNAP, encouraged the class to stay life-long learners. “Keep learning, keep leaning into challenges and keep thinking about how best way to help human kind, especially those who are the most vulnerable among us,” Schorn said.

Senior Associate Dean for Informatics and Centennial Independence Foundation Professor of Nursing Betsy Weiner, PhD, RN-BC, FACMI, FAAN, called the class “the most tech-savvy graduating class we’ve had,” noting that the school had provided the technology tools graduates would need in the next phase of their careers.

Pam Jones, DNP, RN, FAAN, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical & Community Partnerships, referenced the role of advanced practice nurses in the COVID-19 crisis. “I have personally witnessed the incredible contributions of advance practice nursing and nurse leaders to the health and well-being of our communities and this country,” Jones said. “I know each of you is using your passion, intellect and advanced skills to improve the health of your community.”

Several of the academic specialty directors spoke of the class’s resilience and adaptability in reference to challenges created by COVID-19. “As things got tough, you all got tougher,” said  Marci Zsamboky, DNP, CNE, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Specialty Director.

Richard Watters, PhD, RN, Nursing and Health Care Leadership Specialty Director, spoke of his confidence in the new advanced practice nurses. “Although we are in these uncertain times, I’m comforted that you and your nurse colleagues will be our future nurse leaders,” he said.

Courtney Pitts, DNBP, MPH, Director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty, expressed what many of her fellow specialty directors said. “Congratulations. We are now proud to call you colleagues. Represent VUSN well,” Pitts said.