NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Billie Allard opened her arms wide on Monday to welcome the newest cadre into the nursing profession.
Calling on other nurses in the gym at McCann Technical School to stand and be noted, the keynote speaker at Monday night's pinning ceremony told the 20 licensed practical nursing graduates that she had no idea what her life would become after her own pinning ceremony years ago.
"I have never regretted for one moment the decision I made nurses has nursing has helped me develop a deep and abiding love and appreciation for every person each day and each moment as this on this Earth," she said.
Allard, a nurse for more than 40 years, is currently administrative director of population health at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington and was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing in October. She has spoken at McCann's nursing program graduation a number of times.
"The class of 2019 has had a tumultuous time with changes in leadership and faculty partway through the year. The lessons you learned through this experience will serve you well going forward as a nurse as health care is in flux, and requires everyone to be able to respond quickly and be nimble as we try our best to meet the needs of patients and their families," she said.
There may be uncertainty, but also, a significant opportunity for the nation's more than 3 million nurses to shape the future of our health-care delivery system, she said. "Nurses have long held back, waiting for decisions to be made by others. We are the ones at the bedside with patients and families, we are the one that understands what patients really need.
"And what we see is very important about how we're going to care for them. We need to learn how to delegate effectively and how to maximize our role in the care of patients."
She left them with some "pearls of wisdom": keep practicing to master your profession, be patient with yourself as you begin what is essentially your residency, don't be intimated by physicians and don't be afraid to speak up on behalf of patients, remember you're part of a team, don't be sidetracked by pettiness or ignore problems, don't be afraid to ask for feedback and support, trust what you can offer can make a difference, acknowledge you're going to have bad days and take a deep breath, and first and foremost — take care of yourself.
"Nursing as a profession can be physical, physically and emotionally draining," Allard said. "Remember to replenish the well by caring for yourself and making wise choices in your life."
Christa Berthiaume, the practical nursing coordinator, said the students took their first steps on their career pathway on Jan. 2 and made it through the rigorous 10-month program.
"I am pleased to recognize each and every one of you for your commitment to the program and acknowledge the many long hours in the classwork clinical practice and study while also balancing the needs of your family's work and life," she said. "It's no easy task being a nursing student, as I'm sure everyone graduated here this evening can tell you, but the rewards of being a nurse are many. And, as you're about to find out, is a noble profession. It is a vocation, a calling. Not everyone is called to be a nurse. But to the 20 of you sitting here this evening, I feel you have made the right choice."
Berthiaume also commended the families present for "the love and encouragement you have provided to the students. If not for you and your strength and support. They would not be here tonight."
There was a special presentation before the conclusion of the ceremony as the graduates lined up to give former program coordinator Susan Watson a red rose. She had flown back from her retirement in Missouri to help the students through this summer's most challenging content, said Berthiaume.
There were three recipients of the annual Faye Ellen Fosser Memorial Scholarship this year: Michelle O'Brien, Jennifer Feliciano and Rachel Seckler. The Academic Award went to Nicole Lennon and the Clinical Excellence Award to Nichole Christman and Jacqueline Pecor. Elected by their peers to represent them on the advisory committee were Hannah Folino and Jacqueline Pecor and on the faculty committee, Nichole Christman and Michelle O'Brien.
"I can look at all of you and know that there was a time when you had some doubts that this evening might occur and you would be sitting in that chair. But because of your perseverance, and because of your teamwork, you're here tonight," said Superintendent James Brosnan. "You made this very special night for all of us. We couldn't be more proud of you."
The national anthem and another selection were sung by McCann nursing alumna Lynn Pinsonneault, with Bob Davis accompanying on the sound system. Brosnan and Principal Justin Kratz presented the certificates and the graduates were pinned by nursing faculty, friends and family. Graduate Jack Gibeau lead the nurse's pledge before his classmates "lit" their battery-operated candles.
"Go out there, touch the hearts and souls of patients and you make a difference," Allard told them. "The profession of nursing will be stronger because you are now a part of us."
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