USI nursing students have leg up

Devyn Curry


Admission to the nursing program is based solely on grade point average, said Sarah Stevens, director of advising in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

If two students’ GPAs are tied and only one can be admitted, extra curricula’s play a role in the final decision.


Before graduating in May 2013, USI nursing program graduate Krista Coccaro had already accepted a job offer in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Deaconess Hospital’s Main Campus.

Coccaro completed an internship in the unit, and in March 2013, Deaconess offered her a full-time position.

“I never would have thought I would want to work in the ICU,” Coccaro said. “But after my critical care rotations, that changed.”

USI has more ICU and critical care clinical hours than any other university in the state of Indiana.

“About one fifth of my graduating class is either working in the ICU, critical care setting or emergency room,” she said. “As a new grad, it is hard to get those positions because most of the time, they want experienced nurses.”

The amount of clinical hours nursing students complete  and the experience at local hospitals is what sets USI’s nursing program apart from other university level programs.

Students begin clinical rotations in the fall of their junior year.

USI requires more than double the amount of clinical hours than the state minimum requirement for all nursing programs, giving USI students an advantage when they begin applying for jobs in the area.

“Everyone in my graduating class had at least one job offer in Evansville before or right after graduation,” Coccaro said. “The program is well-known, so the hospitals in Evansville know the amount of experience USI grads have received through clinicals.”

Coccaro said she didn’t fill out one application or interview for her nursing position. After her critical care rotation with the Cardiovascular ICU, she had an internship there, which led to the job offer.

She said Deaconess and St. Mary’s hospitals both offer internships in the spring, so a lot of students take internships in units they potentially want to work in after graduation.

“If the unit likes you after the internship, they will offer you a job – most likely before graduation,” Coccaro said.

To prepare students for a career in the nursing field, USI requires practicum.

Coccaro said it is similar to an unpaid internship for extra clinical hours.

Each student will work a nurse’s full-time schedule the last month and a half before graduation.

Since Coccaro accepted the job offer with the Cardiovascular ICU, she was able to use her practicum hours as orientation for the new job. She said many students who receive early job offers do the same.

Melanie Kincaid, executive director for critical care and trauma services at St. Mary’s Medical Center, said when she receives applications for different nursing positions, she chooses to interview USI students first.

Kincaid held the position of Nursing Director at St. Mary’s for about seven years. At that time, she was in charge of hiring nurses throughout the hospital. She has been the executive director for critical care and trauma services for two years, but sometimes still assists in the hiring process.

“USI produces incredible nurses,” Kincaid said. “They have so many more clinical hours than other programs. I believe that is what sets them apart from other schools.”

When looking for good qualities in a nurse, Kincaid said the first characteristics she looks for are compassion and an interest in learning.

“Skills and grade point average are somewhere farther down my list of importance,” Kincaid said. “We can teach nurses skills and they can gain experience, but if they don’t have compassion, then we don’t have a lot to work with.”

St. Mary’s offered jobs to 68 graduates in the spring of 2013. USI made up 37 percent of that total with 25 job offers. Of those 25, 21 were offered those positions three months before graduation.

“USI is a preference over other nursing programs because they choose wisely who they admit into their program,” Kincaid said. “Not just anybody gets in at USI.”

USI Nursing Program Director Constance Swenty said the amount of clinical hours for the program has its advantages and disadvantages.

“It means our students are extremely busy,” Swenty said. “It is very difficult for them to even hold a part-time job, so finances can be an issue. It can put a lot of stress on students, and we know that.”

But due to the fact that they are in the clinical area more than other programs, Swenty said they have a more hands-on learning experience in the hospitals. Being there eight to 12 hours a day provides the students the whole nursing picture – from the beginning of a shift to the end.

“There is nothing like learning something from your book in the classroom, and then taking that information and applying it in a patient setting,” Swenty said.

The nursing program can fill up to 110 seats each year.

“Before applying to the program, we had to take prerequisite courses that were very difficult,” Coccaro said. “Some you could apply to nursing, like anatomy and chemistry, and others were just core curriculum classes.”

After students finish taking those courses, Coccaro said they apply in the fall. GPAs and extra curricular activities are the only two considerations for getting accepted into the program.

“It is hard to set yourself apart, especially from students who have all taken the same prerequisites and have the same goal as you,” Coccaro said. “Your GPAs are all about the same, so you have to do extra curriculars to set the bar higher for yourself.”

Coccaro said the hardest part about being in the program was balancing the tests, projects and clinicals while she played volleyball for USI. She said they would have class on Mondays and Tuesdays and the rest of the week would be spent in clinical.

“There would be clinical days where we would get on the unit at 6:30 a.m. and not leave until 7 p.m.,” Coccaro said. “UE students would come in around 9 a.m. and leave by 1 p.m. It just seemed like we would get more experience for a real nurse’s shift versus other programs.”