St. Luke's School of Nursing

By Jill Spotz

In the spring of 2009, Stephanie Sathmary Decker, a 1981 graduate of St. Luke’s School of Nursing, attended a taping of the television show Jeopardy. Imagine her surprise when Alex Trebec asked “Which hospital has the oldest operating nursing school in the U.S.?” None of the contestants responded correctly but Stephanie knew the answer. As one of 4,000 alumni to earn an RN from the oldest operating diploma school of nursing in the country, Stephanie was so excited that she phoned the school to tell them to watch the show.

Since 1884, the Lehigh Valley’s crown jewel of nursing education has prepared nurses to provide compassionate patient care for individuals, families and communities. The school recently celebrated its largest graduating class—71 students—a far cry from classes of five or six graduates in the late 1800s. “St. Luke’s School of Nursing has been in operation through major events in our nation’s history,” explains Sandra Mesics, R.N., M.S.N., C.N.M., Director of the Diploma Program. “We have a very rich heritage. Some of our nurses served in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. During World War II, the school operated an active army cadet of nurses.”

Like all advances in medicine, the nursing profession has also come a long way. The school recently celebrated its 125thanniversary. These days the average age of a student entering the program is 29; much older than students of the past. Displaced workers, second careers, an ever- changing job market and the stability of the nursing profession are the drivers behind the age increase. Students in the class of 2011 range from 17 to 66 years old. “We even had steel workers graduate from our school that have gone on to become successful nurses,” says Mesics. The challenging program runs 20 months, through five continuous semesters. In order to be admitted, students must first complete a core of prerequisites at the college level including: biology, microbiology, chemistry, mathematics, English, sociology and psychology. Requiring these general education courses up front enables the school to shorten the length of the nursing program and allows for more clinical training. Nursing students hit the ground running the first day of school. “We try to introduce them to the hospital setting as early as the second week,” says Mesics. “It is a pretty hectic program. In a typical five-day week, three days are spent in the classroom and two days are spent on the hospital floor working eight-hour shifts.”

It is this strong clinical experience that draws students to St. Luke’s School of Nursing. Graduates log 660 hours of classroom study and 900 hours of hands-on clinical experience. In the final semester alone, students spend almost 200 hours working one-on-one with preceptors throughout the hospital. Sixty percent of graduates find jobs within the St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network. For those students choosing to continue their education, the school has a partnership with Moravian College for an RN to BSN that can be completed in two to three years on a full- or part-time basis. Many of the courses are offered at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem.

“We are very proud of our traditions and history but that does not mean we are not progressive in our approach to 21st century education,” says Mesics, who has been with the school since 2001. St. Luke’s School of Nursing offers much advancement in education including simulation experiences to prepare students for patient encounters. A full-time simulation coordinator manages two simulation rooms, and three robots—SimMan®, SimBaby™ and SimNewB™ (newborn)—that can be programmed to interact with students in many different scenarios. Prior to entering the simulation room, the student is briefed with circumstances surrounding the patient including reason for admittance and symptoms. The controller interacts with the student through a one-way glass. “We may tell them that the patient has just been admitted for an appendectomy but when the student
enters the room the patient may start hallucinating,” explains Mesics. “This enables us to prepare students for the many different situations that RNs experience.” Following the patient encounter, students enter a debriefing room where they are able to watch a video of their experience. The simulators are used in all facets of the nursing curriculum including psychiatric nursing. In fact, SimMan® was utilized so frequently that he had to “vacation” in Wappingers Falls, NY to get “tuned up” for the fall semester!

Students rotate through many specialties including medical-surgical nursing, maternal- newborn nursing, pediatrics,gerontology, community health and more. It is this well-rounded, hands-on clinical experience that makes St. Luke’s School of Nursing a top choice for nursing students in the Lehigh Valley and the reason the school is still in operation after 125 years.

Jill Spotz, of Easton, has worked as a communications professional for more than 15 years for hospitals and medical schools and greatly respects the nursing profession.

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