When the first-year nursing students in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences arrived on the UMass Dartmouth campus in the fall of 2018, they were excited to fulfill their dreams of becoming nurses. The major public health issues of the day were preparing for the upcoming flu season and concern over the opioid epidemic. In the U.S., a flood of new health apps sprouted and, galvanized by the MeToo movement, women’s health issues rose to the forefront. Pandemics were relegated to distant nations and history.
But, as the Class of 2022 began their clinical education in local southeastern MA hospitals during the early spring of 2020, the global health scene exploded with a new virus called Covid-19. What followed in the weeks and months ahead tested the limits of the world’s health care providers with nurses at the forefront of caring for severely ill patients who were overrunning hospitals. For over a year, UMass Dartmouth nursing students saw the hands-on training they had looked forward to change to remote learning.
Two years later, those students proudly marched into the Main Auditorium to the song, “Rise Up,” to celebrate the culmination of their nursing education against unprecedented odds. Their perseverance during a worldwide pandemic was applauded by their faculty, dean, peers, and UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark A. Fuller.
“I can’t help but think that this year’s Pinning Ceremony is particularly special,” he said to the 90 nursing students on the eve of Commencement. “The pandemic put a strain on our healthcare system like none of us have ever witnessed and it illuminated just how critical you are as frontline healthcare workers.
“Nurses save lives every day, be it during critical moments in the emergency room or through preventive care in general practice offices,” Chancellor Fuller continued. “The care you provide heals bodies, and the compassion you offer can heal hearts and minds. You have chosen a noble calling, and I think it says a lot about who you are.”
College celebrates students and welcomes them to the nursing profession
For nearly 50 years, the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS) has held a Pinning Ceremony, where nursing students receive their pins to mark the completion of their undergraduate education. Held during National Nurses Week, the ceremony has historic roots that date back to the Crusades and, today, officially marks a student’s transition to the nursing profession.
“This is a time of celebration for all you have accomplished,” said Assistant Professor Valerie Seney. “It is a time of thanks, for all of those who helped you to work hard, to never give up, and to achieve the dream of becoming a nurse. I speak for all of your faculty as I say, ‘Congratulations for a job well done!’ We were happy to walk this journey with you and we are excited for all that you have to offer the profession of nursing.”
In tracing the history of the Pinning Ceremony, CNHS Dean Kimberly Christopher explained that the nursing pin symbolizes service with many professional rights as well as responsibilities and is a connection to other UMass Dartmouth nursing graduates. She encouraged the graduates to stay in touch with faculty and staff, join the alumni association, return for graduate school, and mentor future nursing students in their practice settings.
“The pin is a symbol of your accomplishments, of completing your academic requirement,” she said.
Guest speaker and global health leader addresses the role and impact of nurses on the world stage
Dr. Monica Adhiambo Onyango, RN, MPH, MS, clinical professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, served as guest speaker. She teaches courses in managing disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies and sexual and reproductive health in disaster settings. Her experience includes serving in the Kenya Ministry of Health for ten years as a nursing officer in management positions at two hospitals and as a lecturer at the Nairobi Medical Training College, School of Nursing.
From 1992-1998, Dr. Onyango worked as a health team leader with international non-governmental organizations in relief and development in South Sudan, Angola, and a refugee camp in Kenya, where she helped design the maternal and child health programs for over 20,000 refugees. In 2011, she co-founded the Global Nursing Caucus at Boston University’s School of Public Health.
In her remarks, she too applauded the nursing graduates’ resilience in completing their education during such a challenging time. “You endured two years of the worst pandemic of our time, and here you are, celebrating your Pinning Ceremony. You made it against all odds, so you should be very proud of yourself and your resilience This is so well deserved.”
She reminded the future nurses of the unique role they will play in patients’ lives. “From today onwards, you will have the privilege and honor of interacting with human beings at some of the lowest moments in their lives, sometimes in very vulnerable situations. Whether you end up serving at a patient’s bedside or serving populations in the community, the quality of your service has an impact not just on your name but on the dignity and integrity of our profession as nurses.”
In discussing the graduates’ future careers, the impact of nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic remains fresh. “You will often be the first to detect health emergencies and work on the front lines of disease prevention and the delivery of primary health care and more,” Onyango said. “Suffice to say, how nurses worldwide responded to the Covid-19 pandemic was a real-time powerful witness and testimony to the world of the crucial role played by nurses, not to mention the dangers nurses faced when responding to outbreaks of new diseases.
“By now you are all well aware that the world today is a global village We are no longer confined to practicing just within the borders where we were born or trained. We need to be knowledgeable about the health needs of all people in the global society. No global health agenda can be realized without sustained efforts to maximize the contributions of the nursing workforce and our crucial roles within interprofessional health teams.”
Ceremony concludes with students’ reflections and “A Nurses Pledge for the 21st Century”
Kenney Maxfield ’22 joined several speakers in thanking the nursing faculty for preparing him and his classmates for their profession. “The faculty has instilled into each one of us the skills and knowledge to make us newly minted UMass Dartmouth nurses, ready to take on the world, and they did this through a global pandemic nonetheless. Words tend to fall short of their true meaning, but from the Class of 2022 to all the faculty from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.”
His classmate, Katelyn Feeney ’22, reflected on all they have learned. “Of course, stats and figures are all well and good, but what about the experiences that you can’t exactly fit nicely into a stat sheet? The feeling of putting scrubs on for the first time, taking your first pulse of blood pressure, the nervous excitement of stepping into a hospital gown for the very first time, giving your first bed bath, and your first medication.”
Before joining family and friends to celebrate their achievement, the CNHS Class of 2022 recited “A Nurse’s Pledge for the 21st Century,” a new pledge written by the Massachusetts Nurses Association that calls on nurses to honor the nurse-patient relationship, use technology mindfully, protect the environment, work for social justice, and mentor others.