Nursing major expands to Florham Campus

By Kenna Caprio

“I feel kind of empowered,” says Melissa Dudukovich, a freshman from Kenilworth, N.J., part of the first nursing cohort at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus. In the Fall 2015 semester, FDU introduced a nursing major at Florham for the first time. The Metropolitan Campus program celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012.

“What we’re doing and how we’re affecting the program is going to affect the students going into the program after us,” continues Dudukovich. “It’s very exciting and a little scary. We’re all learning what to do together.”

Nursing students Florham lab

Florham nursing students, (L to R) Brianna Wallace, Dillon Hathaway, Nicole Florento and Melissa Dudukovich dissect a sheep's brain in anatomy lab. The sheep brain is “similar to a human brain,” says Dudukovich, “so we were taught to label the sections of the brain and what their responsibility or function was within the nervous system and how it affected the rest of the body.” (Photo courtesy of Dudukovich)

The decision to expand the nursing major comes as part of the University’s overall strategic plan to promote and grow health sciences majors and programming. In 2012, the University opened the School of Pharmacy, and in 2015, dedicated the Daniel and Martina Lewis Center for Healthcare Innovation and Technology.

Bringing the nursing degree to Florham came next.

“It’s somewhere on the order of one out of every five dollars that is spent on the gross domestic product is spent on healthcare,” says Michael Avaltroni, dean of FDU’s School of Pharmacy. “HIV is now a livable condition. One out of every three Americans is projected, in the next 25 years, to be diagnosed as diabetic. So, there’s a real tipping point, of all these things culminating in a need for well-educated, well-trained and forward-thinking students, who are taking on the challenges of health care in a very different environment than ever before.”

He continues: “Thinking creatively about ways that we can really improve the lives and the health of the American people, and globally, is something that is both exciting, and a huge opportunity for us as a university.”

Twenty-three students have enrolled in the major at Florham.

“They’re excited,” says Marycarol Rossignol, associate director of nursing at the Florham Campus and associate professor of nursing, of the first cohort. “They’re capable and strong communicators. They’re assertive as a group and motivated to learn.”

This semester, the students take Preview to Professional Nursing, their first course directly related to their major. They’ll spend a majority of their sophomore, junior and senior years taking nursing classes at the School of Pharmacy, starting in the Fall 2016 semester, and out working in clinical rotations.

An emphasis will be placed on interdisciplinary education and collaboration.

“The ultimate goal of interdisciplinary education is to learn how to work with an interdisciplinary health care team, and to improve communication with all members of the team to improve patient outcomes,” says Minerva Guttman, professor of nursing and director of the Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health. “A good leader must be able to work effectively with an interdisciplinary team, and giving the nursing students this experience while they are in school will help them assume this leadership role.”

The new nursing facilities on the third floor of the pharmacy building at 230 Park Avenue are designed to enhance opportunities for collaboration. Construction on the floor — slated to include classrooms, faculty offices, student study and lounge space, a patient assessment laboratory and a simulated cadaver lab — will begin in early 2016.

Interdisciplinary education will be “patient-centered,” says Avaltroni. Student teams will consider the needs of patient and caregiver, thinking beyond their future as a nurse or pharmacist, as they are exposed to other health care disciplines including psychology and counseling, social work, palliative, end-of-life care and spiritual care.

Dudukovich, and Dillon Hathaway, a freshman from Shamong, N.J., enrolled in the nursing major, say they’re eager to work side-by-side with the pharmacy students. “The pharmacy students have been through what we’re going through,” says Dudukovich. Some pharmacy students have offered to act as informal mentors, to support the first nursing class. “It’ll be good to have someone to talk to, and they’ll know how hard the workload and study is,” adds Hathaway.

Students graduating with a nursing degree, says Rossignol, “need to be intelligent and professional. They need to have excellent communication skills. They need to be caring, and have empathy for patients. They need to respect cultural diversity and advocate for clients. They need to be conscientious, so that they follow up and verify. They need to be comfortable and confident in their knowledge and skills. We can build competencies in the lab with simulations, in hospitals with actual patients and experiences, and through activities that foster interprofessional practice and teamwork.”