It’s a picture-perfect early autumn day. Expansive views of Long Island Sound greet guests of The Connecticut Hospice in Branford. Here, in the conference room, a group of CCSU faculty and nursing students have gathered for lunch and conversation with Hospice representatives.
They are talking about the University’s new MS in Nursing in Hospice & Palliative Care program, one of only five such graduate nursing programs in the U.S. and the only one in New England. The program is in the process of accreditation and members of the accreditation team are present.
“This is a really unique and special site because it’s the first Hospice in the U.S. and people come from all over the world to learn from the care that’s provided here,” says, Leona Konieczny, department chair of nursing at CCSU.
The 35-credit program is a cohort model in which all coursework is done online. Practicum and capstone courses are at four clinical sites in addition to Connecticut Hospice: Hartford Hospital, Franciscan Home Care, VNA Healthcare, and Danbury Hospital. More sites will be added as the program expands.
“Our work with various health-care partners has been a tremendous accomplishment, especially with the few hospice and palliative care programs offered in the state that can accommodate graduate students,” says Nancy Peer, CCSU associate professor of nursing and MSN program coordinator. “This has given our current clinical students wonderful opportunities for learning.”
The first cohort consists of five students, who are completing their clinical practicum and expected to graduate in May 2019. The second cohort has seven students, presently taking their first course, with an anticipated graduation date of May 2020.
In addition to completing the master’s level skills required by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, students in this holistic program acquire training in advanced nursing care and options for end-of-life and chronic care patients and their families.
“One thing about our organization is that students are going to get a diverse experience,” says Soozi Flannigan, Hospice’s senior vice president of in-patient and home care. “They will see patients with all different diagnoses, at all different ages. It’s a true team approach to patient care, which is holistic in nature. They’re going to see the music therapy; they’ll be part of team meetings and learn how everyone has input into the care of that patient. It’s a great learning environment.”
Jennifer Danieli is completing her clinical practicum at Connecticut Hospice. She received her undergraduate nursing degree at Western Connecticut State University and was immediately employed in a skilled nursing facility for 20 years. She is currently director of Regional Hospice in Danbury.
Danieli says she finds helping people in their last stages of life to be uplifting, not depressing.
“I worked for many years in skilled nursing facilities and would see patients not die as peacefully as they could,” she explains. “So, I want to help families and patients have a peaceful death experience by building relationships with them and assisting with pain management.”
Amanda DiBenedetto is doing her clinical work at Hartford Hospital, which has onsite hospice care. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield and began her nursing career at Waterbury Hospital. She says she always wanted to go into oncology and Hospice care, and when an opportunity arose three years ago at the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, she took it.
“For me, it’s all about perspective,” she says. “I love this nursing because it makes me understand my issues in life aren’t half of what some of the patients’ are, and I genuinely love the compassion all the Hospice nurses have.”
Both women say one of their favorite aspects of the program is the online coursework, because as students with full-time jobs online programming gives them the flexibility to do assignments in their own time.
CCSU administrators are pleased with the new MS in Nursing program and see it growing slowly but steadily.
I’m very enthusiastic about how well it’s going,” says Glynis Fitzgerald, dean of Graduate Studies. “And while it’s very small right now, with the efforts of the faculty and support of the university I expect it will grow. We want to be sure the right students are recruited to work well with our community partners.”
Kimberly Kostelis, Dean of School of Education and Professional Studies, adds, “We’ve been working on growing our undergraduate programs. So this seems like a natural extension to offer a master’s program within the department of nursing, and especially one so specialized that will enable us to lead the way.”