Ty Walton, of Oxford, studies Monday afternoon at Martin Hall at Mississippi University for Women. Walton is pursuing her master's degree in nurse practioning. MUW's most recent graduating class had a 100 percent pass rate and scored above the national average on their certification exams.
Photo by: Carmen K. Sisson/Dispatch Staff
February 28, 2012 10:30:00 AM
When Ty Walton, 33, started looking for a college last August to pursue her master's degree as a nurse practitioner, she knew she needed a unique program.
She was married and raising three children -- ages 17, 14 and 12. She was living in Oxford, and she wanted to finish her education as quickly as possible.
Mississippi University for Women emerged as the obvious choice. For one thing, the program's reputation preceded it. For another, she could finish her degree in a year by taking a heavier course load than many graduate schools allow.
Also, since the classes are only taught on Mondays and the 672 required clinical hours can be obtained close to students's home, commuting to school once a week wasn't too much of a burden.
Walton's story is one of success, borne of hard work and determination -- with a few setbacks along the way.
She got pregnant and dropped out of high school at 15 but returned later and managed to graduate with her class. Though she had planned to be a secretary or an accountant, she took a job as a caretaker, working for eight months with a man who had AIDS.
That experience made her realize she wanted to be a nurse, and she worked her way up through the ranks, from CNA to LPN to RN.
And now she's at MUW, preparing to take her certification exam as a nurse practitioner in August.
She said she's not worried, because she believes MUW prepares the students well.
Recently, the college learned that its most recent round of 24 graduates had a 100 percent pass rate on the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners certification exam. It's not completely unusual -- some previous graduating classes have scored that well before also. In addition, the recent class scored above the national average on the exam, making an average score of 633 compared to the nation's 592.
The pass rate is a symbol of MUW's program quality, said Dr. Sheila Adams, dean of MUW's College of Nursing and Speech-Language Pathology.
"Results such as this show that ... MUW is attracting the best and brightest nurses who want to become nurse practitioners," said Dr. Johnnie Sue Cooper Wijewardane, graduate department chair of the MUW College of Nursing and an assistant professor.
The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Program is a method by which entry-level nurse practitioners demonstrate their education, knowledge and professional expertise, and it validates advanced nurses' qualifications.
The AANP certification exam is offered year-round throughout the nation.
MUW has offered a graduate nursing program since 1975, becoming the first master's degree nurse practitioner program in the state, and the only one in Mississippi until the late 1990s. Approximately 875 students have completed MUW's graduate nursing program.
Along with the state-accredited master's degree in nursing, the university's nursing department also offers an associate's degree in nursing and a bachelor's degree in nursing.
Like Walton, Liz Edwards, 29, is also a mother, commuting from Oxford. Her baby is only five-months-old, and she said juggling the intensity of MUW's program is difficult but worth it. Her mother, grandmother and sister were all nurses.
She too was attracted to MUW by the one-year program. Wijewardane said that's a big draw for many students.
"It's very attractive to a lot of students, because they feel they can handle anything for a year," she said. "We attract those who really plan and want to get in and get done."
She said the graduates will find an eager job market, though it's tighter than it once was. That is expected to improve between 2015 and 2020, she said, when a mass exodus of retiring nurses is expected to take place.
In anticipation of the need, MUW will begin offering a doctorate in nursing next January. Wijewardane said 30 to 40 people have inquired about it, and since there will only be seven slots, she knows they will have to turn some away.
But she's pleased with the most recent certification exam results.
"It shows that the students receive an excellent education and preparation for their careers as nurse practitioners, and it validates MUW," she said.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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