On Sunday March 19, a group of ten UVI nursing students and two professors from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands boarded their flight bound for Haverhill, Massachusetts. For some of the students, it might have been their first trip to the Northeast; for others, their first trip to Massachusetts. For all, it was an exciting trip that meant obtaining valuable clinical instruction at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford – the premier acute rehabilitation hospital in the Merrimack Valley.

This first group represents the entire graduating class from the School of Nursing at the UVI Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. Their rotations in Haverhill will last through March 29. The next group of ten nursing students from UVI Orville E. Kean Campus on St. Thomas will fly to Haverhill on March 29 and will stay through April 7 for their clinical rotations.

This partnership between Whittier and UVI began in December 2021, making it possible to purchase software licenses for students to access the many virtual simulation products needed to sustain program delivery since the onset of the pandemic. This support prevented the university from passing the cost of the simulation products on to the students, and allowed the school to maintain enrollment numbers at the SON. 

Then in April 2022, at a meeting with students and faculty, Mr. Philip Arcidi, Treasurer of Whittier Health Network, mentioned the possibility of students visiting Whittier Health facilities in Massachusetts to address some challenges with accessing clinical sites in the territory.  Both students and faculty enthusiastically embraced this suggestion. The Dean and the Vice President for Institutional Advancement visited the Whittier Health facilities in August 2022. They continued discussion with the administrator at the Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Bradford, MA, to develop a plan to accommodate students to gain clinical experiences there.

UVI nursing students clinical rotations Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital Bradford, Nursing students from the University of the Virgin Islands travel to Massachusetts for clinical rotations in a study abroad experience at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford.In December, Dr. Vivian Palmer-Lewis, Program Chair and Prof. Patricia Burks from UVI traveled to Massachusetts and spent the day at Whittier Rehab. They developed a relationship with the staff, became familiar with the services provided, visited the hospital’s patient care units, discussed the best clinical rotation schedule with the nursing leadership, and went over the orientation program’s content and mode of delivery.

On March 14, a virtual orientation session between the two groups of students and Whittier nursing staff was held. Nursing staff was able to meet and greet the students and review what the students can expect when they arrive. Whittier’s Director of Nursing Services Heather Grondin said: “All of us in the Nursing and Clinical Services are excited to have you all and share with you our enriching clinical experiences. Your students will be enthralled and challenged. We look forward to working with you and building this relationship to support the future nurses entering our profession.

Mary Beverley A. Lansiquot, DNP, MSN, BSN, RN, FAAN Dean, UVI School of Nursing said: “On behalf of the SON’s students, faculty, and staff, I thank Mr. Philip Arcidi, the Arcidi family, and the Whittier Health team for their support in bringing this innovative initiative to fruition. Your willingness to support the SON to improve the quality of the clinical experiences for our students is very much appreciated.

The School of Nursing, formerly the Department of Nursing Education, was established in 1965 at the College of the Virgin Islands, now the University of the Virgin Islands. The school started by offering the Associate in Arts degree in Nursing. The BSN program was introduced in 1986 on the Orville E. Kean (OEK) campus on St. Thomas, and the Associate Degree was offered on the Albert A Sheen (AAS) campus on St. Croix.

UVI nursing students clinical rotations Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital Bradford, Nursing students from the University of the Virgin Islands travel to Massachusetts for clinical rotations in a study abroad experience at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford.Since Ms. Lansiquot’s appointment as Dean of the SON in July 2014, the school developed a strategic plan entitled  “Transforming Lives through Excellence in Nursing Education, Healthcare and Research – 2016.”   Academic Development Student Development and Success were priorities, and the action plan addressed declining NCLEX pass rates in the BSN program.  The strategic objectives focused on revising the BSN curriculum, strengthening administrative structures and processes, strengthening clinical teaching (including introducing virtual and high-fidelity simulators in program delivery), and implementing policy changes to improve NCLEX pass rates.   The SON introduced the revised BSN Program in 2016 and the BSN program at a second site at the AAS Campus on St. Croix. Clinical teaching facilities at the school were enhanced and the revised BSN Program at the AAS campus also allowed the university to discontinue the Associate Degree program and reallocate resources to the BSN program. 

These efforts collectively have produced the desired results. NCLEX-RN pass rates on the first sitting improved from 25% in 2014 to 100% in 2020.  Retention rates improved from 40% for the Entry Cohort of 2016 to 82% for 2019 (Graduating Class of 2021).  Graduation rates in the BSN Program increased by 208%, from 12 in 2014 to 34 in 2020. BSN graduates increased by 290% from 31 in 2013-2015 to 90 in 2019-2021. Many graduates remain in the VI, serving locally in staff and leadership positions.  The current (2023) enrollment in the program (118) now approximates the highest enrollment of 119 in 2020-2021.

These accomplishments were achieved despite challenges caused by two category-five hurricanes that impacted the territory in 2017, and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Recently, however, the need to provide clinical experiences to senior students was made more urgent with the recent decline in the Ultimate NCLEX-RN pass rates for the Graduating Classes of 2022 (64%) and 2023 (74%). We believe these results are associated with the unavoidable reduction in local access to face-to-face clinical experiences and the students’ decisions to increase work hours during and since the pandemic.

UVI nursing students clinical rotations Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital Bradford, Nursing students from the University of the Virgin Islands travel to Massachusetts for clinical rotations in a study abroad experience at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford.While at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital, the UVI students will have these face-to-face clinical experiences. The hospital provides various medical and nursing services that will allow students to meet the End of Program Student Learning Outcome before they graduate in May 2023.

We hope this partnership is just the beginning of many years to come of providing opportunities to students from the Virgin Islands, as well as helping with staffing at our facilities in Massachusetts. Residents from the area who are interested in a career in nursing should consider UVI for their nursing education. They can get clinical experiences at Whittier, graduate, and come back to Massachusetts to practice at Whittier. Compared to regional costs of up to $68,000 for tuition, room and board at Massachusetts colleges, a student can earn their BSN at UVI for only $13,500 for tuition, room and board per year. 

Bob Iannaco, Administrator at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford said: “We could not be more excited to be partnering with UVI and Dean Lansiquot. We look forward to hosting students from both St. Croix and St. Thomas along with their instructors and know that they will have a fulfilling experience here at Whittier.

Whittier’s DON Heather Grondin said: “I would love to add that the future nurses from UVI will experience geographical differences in healthcare and we hope they consider us as where they want to develop the foundational nursing skills for a long career in nursing.” 

Congratulations to these students and welcome to Whittier!

Photos, top to bottom: The students arrived at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital Bradford on March 20! Left to right: Leo Curtin, Director of Long Term Care, Whittier Health Network; Melissa Conley, BSN, RN, Clinical Educator, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford; UVI Professor Patricia Burks (back); Dr. Vivian Palmer-Lewis, UVI; UVI student Ethaliah Henry (back); Brittany Lomanno, BSN, RN, Clinical Educator, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford; UVI student Chael Chaseau (back); UVI student Veronica Diaz; UVI student Kiara Jarvis; Michael P. Arcidi, Director of Operations, Whittier Health Network; UVI student Kiana Garib; UVI student Dominique Galiber (back); UVI student Viviana Monell (back); UVI student Chenise Felix; UVI student Elsie Malcolm; UVI student Lashanda Michael; Bob Iannaco, Administrator, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford; Heather Grondin, BSN, CCM, Director of Nursing Services, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Bradford; and Alfred J. Arcidi, Senior Vice President, Whittier Health Network. St. Croix students in a virtual classroom with instructors and Whittier Health Network Treasurer Philip M. Arcidi. The St. Croix students and faculty at Henry E. Rohlson Airport, on the day of departure. We will welcome the St. Thomas group at Bradford next week!

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