SARASOTA, Fla.— — Students in an accelerated nursing program at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus found themselves in a unique situation when they started a new program last year just before the pandemic began. Those students will now graduate in a matter of days and say they’re ready to join the front lines.
“I come from a family of nurses: My aunt is a nurse. My mom went to school for nursing. My sister is a nurse. My cousin is a nurse,” said Teren Culver.
Like her family, Culver found her fit in nursing.
“We knew it wouldn’t be an easy path because everything just kind of changed all at once,” said Culver. “It wasn’t just a change for us. It was a change for our professors as well from the traditional program that they were used to.”
Culver is part of the first cohort of 30 students from USF’s accelerated nursing program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus that will graduate with the spring 2021 class. The program allows students with bachelor’s degrees to return to school to earn a nursing degree through an intensive 16-month period.
The program launched in January 2020, just before the pandemic started.
“We’ve had to find creative solutions,” said Natasha Zurcher, the director for the accelerated pathway on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. “We’ve had to integrate simulation into some of their coursework in order to maintain the quality of the program and allow them to accumulate the hours needed for graduation.”
Graduating students like Lauren Bedford explain the COVID-19 crisis only motivated them more to want to help healthcare workers on the front lines.
“It definitely was kind of like, ‘No, this is where I want to be,” said Bedford. “You could see the nurses on the unit, you could see them getting burnt out, especially during the summer months when it was kind of like in the height of it all. I was just like, ‘No, I kind of want to be there. I want to start working.”
Zurcher says some students have jobs lined up already. She explained in order to be licensed, the next step in the process after graduation is taking an exam.
For Zurcher, it’s a proud moment.
“Honestly thinking about it, it brings tears to my eyes because it’s been a challenge,” said Zurcher. “I am so proud of them, I really am. Each and every one of them.”
Through all the challenges, not one student left the program. Now, the soon-to-be graduates are ready to get a jump start on their new career.
“When the pandemic started, I wish I was able to go ahead and be right there in it, but I’m very appreciative to be able to get through this program now so that I can still be a help to those who need help,” said Culver.