On any given day, Wilson nursing students can find themselves off campus shadowing nurses during a 12-hour shift at Summit Health’s Chambersburg Hospital, assessing residents’ vital signs at the Menno Haven Retirement Community or observing patients at Keystone Health’s public clinics.

These three Chambersburg area medical organizations are the Wilson nursing program’s largest active partners. “The goal of our undergraduate program is to give our students a hands-on clinical experience as early as possible, and we are so fortunate to have these partners to help us provide for those experiences,” said Carolyn Hart, Wilson director of nursing. “Our nurses are working hand in hand with staff nurses providing patient care, because human beings learn by doing.”

At Chambersburg Hospital, second-year Wilson nursing students experience the rigors of a 12-hour nursing shift first-hand. They arrive at the hospital by 6:30 a.m. and are greeted by Hannah Inkrote, a Wilson clinical instructor who hands out their assignments on the medical surgery unit. Those assignments include taking patients’ vital signs, helping registered nurses give medication, checking IVs and changing patients’ dressings. Students also receive instruction on the workings of a dialysis machine, so that they can assist patients coming into the unit that day for treatment.

Sherri Stahl, senior vice president of hospital services and chief nursing officer at Chambersburg Hospital, said the current goal is to give the students hands-on experience in the hospital’s medical surgery, birthing/obstetrics and the acute care units. As the nursing program evolves, students will have access to other hospital departments—including the emergency room—and have longer interactions with patients.

“Wilson has developed a perfect way of blending academic teaching with the acute care treatment experience for their students so that they have not just academic discussions, but real-life experiences,” Stahl said. “The College tries to put them in the position of a bedside nurse and try to get them to think like a bedside nurse.”

During one recent class at Menno Haven, first-year nursing students Bailey Keefer ’19 and Janelle Ford ’19 cheerily greeted Pamellia Garnes Erickson ’36. The Menno Haven resident volunteered to let the students take her vital signs as part of their clinical course with Assistant Professor of Nursing Jennifer Buffenbarger. Erickson, who is 102, entertained the two students with recollections about her favorite professors at Wilson while they took her blood pressure and listened to her heart and lungs.

For many of the students, this is their first time performing assessments with real patients. “I am really impressed with our first-years,” Buffenbarger said. “They are jumping right in and picking up on everything so quickly that it just gives me goosebumps.”

At Menno Haven, students become familiar not only with chronic illness, but also how that affects quality of life, “so that they understand not just the science of nursing, but also the art of nursing,” Hart said. Menno Haven benefits from the classes “because the students provide our patients with more interaction, more young people to talk to and more people to share their stories with,” said Menno Haven Director of Nursing Christine Coover. “They find the interaction with the students stimulating.”

Other courses involve Wilson students visiting and interacting with patients at area Keystone Health clinics. “The community health component is stitched into all our nursing courses,” said Associate Professor of Nursing Julie Beck.

The partnership, according to Keystone CEO Joanne Cochran, “provides opportunities for students to experience the client care needs of the underinsured or uninsured in our community, and exposes students to the financial burdens and challenges of today’s healthcare environment in the United States.”

“I think Keystone helps our students appreciate the economics of healthcare,” Hart said. “By the time the students graduate, they have a deeper appreciation of what families and patients have to go through—how difficult it can be to obtain healthcare and afford medications.”

The stated central purpose of Wilson’s nursing program is to increase the quality of health care by graduating nurses who excel in meeting the health care needs of individuals and the community in a rapidly changing health care environment.

“Hospitals are moving more and more patients to community care. Our population is rapidly aging,” Hart said. “We need to have graduates who have experience in all these areas—community care, assisted living, acute hospital care—and we’re lucky to have partners who can provide our students with those learning environments.”