Three homegrown nurses graduate
It wasn’t the formal cap-and-gown graduation ceremony for the three nursing students in Nome. That was planned for the weekend at the University of Alaska Anchorage, along with other winter graduates. It was a family and community ceremony on Dec. 12 when the trio left the UAF’s Northwest Campus in Nome wearing their nursing pin for the first time.
More than 50 friends, family, faculty and nursing colleagues were packed standing-room-only for the pinning ceremony, a tradition for new nurses that goes back to England’s Florence Nightingale — perhaps the world’s most well-known nurse — and her work in the Crimean War of the 1850s involving Russia, Turkey, France and Britain.
A variation of the pinning goes back even further — to the 12th century.
“Thank you for sharing your daughters with me,” said Karen Walls, chief nursing officer at the Norton Sound Health Corp. and the students’ instructor the past two years. She then added, “I don’t get to call you students anymore, I get to call you graduates.”
Nome’s newest nurses are Richelle Ann Horner, Colette Topkok and Mary Irene Ruud.
Half a dozen nurses from the audience joined them in the candle-lighting ceremony — symbolizing their transition from being students to lighting the way in service — and reading of the “Nightingale Pledge” after the pinning.
“We all felt as if we were your daughters,” Topkok told Walls.
Horner thanked Walls for stepping up when the program faced cancellation due to the lack of an instructor.
As good as it has been having the three as students, it will be even better to have them as nurses, said Bob Metcalf, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus in Nome. “You’re model students … and role models for future students.”
Walls, who is turning over the instructor role for the next class to Wendy Smith of the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing, called the pinning ceremony “the end of one journey and the beginning of another.”
All three new registered nurses will be working at the NSHC, where they received on-the-job training as part of the two-year student program.
They earned associate degrees in nursing.
“We’re excited for our next group of nurses because Wendy (Smith) will be their instructor,” Horner said.
“I have been waiting for this day forever, and it is finally here,” Topkok said in her statement in the ceremony program. “So for those who still have dreams to fulfill, it is not too late.”
“Becoming a registered nurse will allow me to live my best life in Nome, which has been a dream of mine my whole life,” Ruud said in her program statement. She was born in Nome and graduated high school here in 2012.
“This program provides an incredible opportunity for local people from Nome and our region to pursue a nursing career,” Horner said. “When I heard about the local nursing program, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.”
The nursing program is a cooperative effort of UAF Northwest Campus, UAA School of Nursing and the Norton Sound Health Corp., with support from Kawerak Inc., Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., Bering Straits Foundation, Northwest Area Health Education Center, Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center, Nome Eskimo Community and the Alaska Department of Labor Nome Job Center.
The program includes stipends for housing. Similar education programs for nurses also operate in Bethel, Dillingham and Sitka. Nome’s next class starts up in January, with four students.