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Nursing School graduate Terri McLeroy and fiance David Hartman. photo by Kats Barry

Graduation 2005: Winding journey ends for Nursing graduates

BY: HEATHER L. HALL

Family Nurse Practitioner Program Director Randy Rasch, left, presents the professional Nursing hood to John Lavendar at Commencement.
photo by Kats Barry

5/20/2005 - Family Nurse Practitioner Program Director Randy Rasch, left, presents the professional Nursing hood to John Lavendar at Commencement. photo by Kats Barry

Though they officially closed the books on their nursing education at Vanderbilt in August of last year and most are already working in a variety of advanced practice nursing roles across the country, graduates from the School of Nursing returned to campus for commencement ceremonies last week, to tip their caps to the University that opened the door to a world of opportunities.

Terri McLeroy didn't have to travel far to return for the celebration. She is the director of Nursing and manager of the Sub-Acute Care Unit in Medical Center North. She went back to school to earn her master's degree from VUSN while continuing to work at the Medical Center. She completed the Health Systems Management Specialty and said it has had a positive impact on her career.

“It has made me a stronger manager, a stronger leader. It showed me the business side of the skills. You think more as an executive when you finish the program.”

McLeroy said it wasn't easy juggling work while taking classes. She often found herself running from a classroom at VUSN to Medical Center North and back again. In the midst of keeping up the frenzied pace, her husband passed away. McLeroy said it was a devastating blow, but despite her pain, she didn't want to give up on her goal.

“I have two high-school-age daughters and I wanted to show my children that this is possible, that you can go back to school and get a degree while managing a career and a family.” McLeroy said VUSN helped her work out a part-time arrangement and helped her through each hurdle, and her boss and the unit at VUMC were very supportive.

She said graduation day was a time to celebrate the accomplishment. “I think putting on the cap and gown signifies the amount of work and somewhat of a sacrifice that I made, and my family made with me, to achieve this goal.”

McLeroy will mark another important milestone in her life here at Vanderbilt next month. On June 10 she will marry David Hartman, who works at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

John Lavender almost didn't make it to commencement day. The 60-year-old student and minister was burning the candle at both ends when he entered the Family Nurse Practitioner Program. He was already a trained Registered Nurse and a pastor at Emmanuel Sabbath Assembly in Huntsville, Ala., where he was busy preaching and leading community projects while trying to manage his own diabetes. He quickly realized that adding school was too much. He backed out, but returned a little over a year later to finish the program.

“I had so many irons in the fire I decided I better not get into it then. I didn't think I was ever going to come back. But I did and I stuck with it,” said Lavender. “I have a deep sense of accomplishment.” Lavender has passed his board examinations and hopes to begin working in a community clinic in Huntsville this summer, and will continue his ministry.

A total of 229 graduates from the School of Nursing earned degrees in the master's program. Those who returned for commencement were recognized during a special ceremony held on the lawn at Branscomb Quadrangle. The nursing school awarded diplomas to 32 students in the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program, 30 in the Adult Nurse Practitioner Specialty, 53 students in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, 14 in Health Systems Management, 22 in the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program, four students in the Nurse-Midwifery/Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty, 10 in the Nurse-Midwifery Program, 20 students from the Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program, 27 in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Specialty, 16 students in the Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Program, and one student in the Women's Health/Adult Nurse Practitioner Specialty.

Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., Nancy and Hilliard Travis professor and dean of the School of Nursing, offered some words of advice to the class of 2005. “You are now a Vanderbilt alum. You will never be the same.” Conway-Welch quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes when she explained that “the mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

Because the master's program at the School of Nursing runs through the summer, the majority of graduates technically completed their academic requirements by late fall of last year.

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