A Dose of Reality

Students applying for nursing program face life-changing possibilities in results

Dressed in scrubs, Chanho Kim methodically asks a patient recovering from a recent knee surgery several questions before departing the room. Another patient is prepped for a check-up.

Four years ago, check-ups were an entirely different experience for Kim as he anxiously checked results of his application for UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program.

Floored when he saw a denial, it became necessary to explore other options. A year later he began the Chippewa Valley Nursing Alliance (CVNA) program and graduated in May 2014 with an associate’s degree in nursing from Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC).

Kim is among the majority of pre-nursing students who have second-guessed their academic route due to the competition for the nursing program.


Why so few?

Each semester, around 40 students may begin calling the pristine Nursing Building their academic home and start nursing classes.

This reality is available for only a portion of program applicants. Kim recalls being a freshman in a room with fellow majors, being told that only 30 percent of those in the room would be accepted into the program.

According to Associate Dean Debra Jansen, around 90 to 120 students apply each semester, once in December and again in May. More applications, Jansen has found, arrive in spring.

Some of the rigorous requirements include completion of at least 30 semester credits and a grade average of “C” or better. Even with a large number of applicants fulfilling such conditions, Eau Claire openly cautions students on their website that this may not be enough.

A one-page essay completes each student’s application, asking students to describe how their experiences and achievements would add to the diversity of leadership within the program.

Tasked with the impossible of dictating application verdicts, an Admissions and Progressions Committee in nursing then assembles.

Jansen, who has witnessed the committee’s decisions, testifies to how difficult the process is. She said the committee may spend up to hours at a time immersed in the piles of applications.

“We realize this is a dream for many students,” Jansen said. “We really want to honor the students in terms of respecting the time they took to apply to the program.”

Due to the quantity of clinical placement opportunities in and around Eau Claire, there simply isn’t enough room for larger numbers to be accepted.

Already, nursing students travel miles outside of the Eau Claire area for required public health settings. Some students even drive to hospitals in Minneapolis in order to complete the pediatric portion of their studies.

“There’s a limit to how much a community can absorb,” Jansen said. “We would overwhelm our community if we had many more students than what we currently have.”


What it takes

Sophomore pre-nursing student Kaitlin Phillips-Grassl knew nursing was the field for her after spending summers at Lion’s Camp, an educational setting serving children and adults who are blind or visually impaired.

Nestled in the wilderness, she spent time each week working with nurses. Their passion for the field proved contagious and her major in molecular biology soon fell to the wayside.

Phillips-Grassl said she was tense after hearing about the program’s low admittance. Fears soon morphed into motivation as she progressed in her studies and met the challenges head-on. She stayed in control of classes as well as being president of the Residence Hall Association. This experience was, as she expected it to be, stressful, but cemented her self-confidence in time management.

For many, the same challenges Phillips-Grassl saw are either vindictive or intellectually stimulating. The application itself isn’t challenging, Phillips-Grassl said. However, the work leading up to it pressed her daily thoughts.

Jansen sees this as a uniform quality among the applicants who are accepted. “They are hard-working. I really have to stress that, they are really hard-working,” Jansen said.

Bent over her computer during Thanksgiving break, Phillips-Grassl second-guessed her writing for the one-page essay and asked others to help as she faced critical writing decisions.

She recently submitted the compilation of these decisions; results won’t be seen until early January.

“I know this is what I want to do,” Phillips-Grassl said. “So I’m not just going to switch my major if I don’t get in.”


What do I do now?

The difficulty of setting themselves up for the application either solidifies students’ passion for the major, or acts as an awakening.

Senior Lauren Westermeyer, an integrated strategic communications student, originally came to Eau Claire because of the quality nursing program. She transferred in fall 2013 and began a year-long anatomy class. While many of her peers relished information garnered in class each day, Westermeyer said she saw it as just another thing to memorize.

“I remember people whose whole focus was ‘I gotta get into the nursing program, I gotta get into the nursing program,’” she said. “And that’s the mindset you need if you want to get in. Even if, sometimes, you’re not going to get in.”

She and her pre-nursing roommate were both denied from the program when they applied last fall. The results were difficult to process. Her roommate chose the option of applying again the upcoming semester and Westermeyer changed majors to a field she felt more confident in.

Progressing with her new major, Westermeyer appreciates its ideals that relate back to her pre-nursing major.

“I think that a lot of qualities that made me interested in becoming a nurse, like wanting to help people … with my new major, I’m still able to use,” she said.

Beyond re-applying, there are few options left for students.

Jansen said they meet with advisors to discuss whether or not another application attempt should be made, the possibility of attending a different school or if nursing is what the student is most interested in.

“They’re quite saddened,” Jansen said. “They’re worried about whether or not they will be accepted in the future if they try applying again.”

Kim said when he received the initial denial, he worried about how many times he would be willing to apply before resorting to a different degree. After meeting with his academic advisor, Lorraine Smith, he sought after the CVNA Alliance Program allowing him to complete an Associate’s degree at the technical college and later transfer back to Eau Claire to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Kim was not the first to be rejected from the program and continue on to fulfill his ambition for a hands-on nursing experience. Phillips-Grassl waits along with dozens of others to see what their academic future holds.  

“Though the schooling was stressful there is nothing I would change for what I’m doing now,” Kim said.