NMC’s inaugural Nursing Scholarship recipients are set to graduate from the VTC Practical Nursing Program this spring: Jennifer Stafford and Jen Belanger as Registered Nurses (RN), and Stephanie Preedom as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).
Fifteen nursing students from the VTC St. Albans Program will graduate June 18, with a ceremony held at the VTC Randolph Campus.
“The graduating VTC nurses in our community will help strengthen our nursing workforce and provide stability in the critical needs healthcare settings,” says Heather Smith, MSN, RN, RNC-MNN, who serves as one of NMC’s Clinical PN Instructors.
While pursuing their respective degrees, the three recipients held various positions within NMC, training in tandem with the hands-on program.
“Working as a patient care technician (PCT) while in nursing school has helped my skills tremendously,” says Stephanie Preedom. “I was not familiar with anything nursing-related when I began the VTC program. I have learned so much working as a PCT at NMC and this helps me achieve higher grades in school.”
Preedom earned her B.S. in Exercise and Movement Science from UVM in 2011, and after working in the field for several years desired a more clinical setting. “Nursing seemed like a good fit for me because it offered flexibility and is a respected profession. I also find it incredibly interesting that nurses can work in many different specialties,” she says.
“This nursing program offers financial relief for me and my family. I look forward to having my student debt paid while I am working for NMC after I am an RN.”
As a wife and mother, Preedom has learned to balance the workload through commitment. “I am glad to be in college as a mom. I hope my three daughters see my determination to finish my degree and my dedication to the nursing field.”
The scholarship recipients agree that with the alleviation of financial burden has come the ability to better focus on school and balance other aspects of family life. All three are working mothers and say that their commitment to the program is intense and necessary.
“The students have very little time off from school and devote much time to studying and attending clinical, in turn, they are well prepared and ready to enter the nursing workforce,” Smith says, of the ten-month intensive program.
“Deciding to become a nurse is a major commitment of time and money,” says Jen Belanger, who credits her husband and two kids for taking care of the household for the past two years, enabling her complete dedication to the program.
“Nursing allows me to share my passion for helping others and use critical thinking to help assist with patient care,” Belanger wrote in a college essay entitled, ‘A Way of Life.’
She began her healthcare career about twenty years ago as a Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA) through Northwestern Technical Center, later earning an Allied Health Certificate from CCV. As her children grew older, Belanger began to pursue healthcare education once again.
“I then began working at Northwestern Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center and loved my job. Within the first year of employment, I took the exam and became a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA),” she says.
Gaining a Registered Orthopedic Technologist (ROT) Certification, she further trained as an operating room (OR) second assistant at NMC in 2018.
“Having attended a couple semesters of Nursing School, many of the skills needed in the OR were very familiar to me,” she says. “I was lucky enough to assist surgeons in Total Joint Replacements and Arthroscopic procedures. I found the operating room to be my passion.”
A few weeks away from graduating as an RN, Belanger says she will make direct progression into the BSN program at VTC. “I now have the honor of joining the NMC OR team. I will be able to commit my life to the future of healthcare in my community and NMC.”
While education and practical experience pave the way, dedication to service and personal goals propels the students forward.
“I believe nursing chose me,” says Jennifer Stafford, LPN. “It was the next logical progression in my healthcare journey.”
After her husband returned from a deployment in 2010, Stafford realized she could use his GI benefits to return to school, graduating from CCV as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) in 2014. She then became an LNA working in Burlington for several years before joining NMC as a CMA in Occupational Health for three years.
Currently an LPN, she says the learning environment at NMC remains of great benefit, “I am not afraid to ask for advice and I listen like a sponge to the other nurses as I work.”
Stafford jokes that her husband calls her a geriatric magnet, “I love to learn new things and form trusting relationships with the elderly,” she says.
“My aspirations are to become a wound care nurse and to work in hospice care, showing my children that hard work pays off and that you are never too old to learn,” says the mother of three.
“Thank you for this once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve my goals, for establishing this scholarship and investing in the future of nursing,” Stafford says.
With the imminent fulfilment of the scholarship period, there is opportunity for incoming nursing students to apply.
“You will have to put the time in, but the hard work does pay off,” says Preedom. While the application process is straightforward, she recommends ample time to request and collect letters of references.
“This nursing journey will be difficult but remember the pieces of the puzzle all come together at the end and NMC’s staff are prepared to nourish our success,” offers Stafford.
“Next fall the PN enrollment numbers are growing for our area. We are excited for this graduating class of students and looking forward to the incoming class of new PN students,” says Smith.
“Graduate nurses who participated in clinical rotations at NMC are fortunate in being familiar with the hospital setting and clinical care areas,” Smith further says, encouraging graduate nurses to apply and interview for open staff nurse positions.
The graduates will soon commence into their new roles, amidst a dwindling pandemic and continued national nursing shortage, prompting high demand in the field.
“It is intimidating to enter the nursing profession when so many nurses are burnt out and leaving the profession,” Preedom says. “I hope that I can remember to always advocate for myself to work in a safe environment in the interest of my patient’s safety.”
Stafford says she feels sadness for the nursing profession, due to the losses encountered during the pandemic. “I knew many nurses who worked during the pandemic and who are forever changed, physically and mentally. A world of gratitude goes out to all the nurses who served during the pandemic and for those who are still in the profession,” she says.
“Watching the students grow in their confidence, clinical skills, and academically is job satisfaction at its best. I am proud of each of them and their commitment to the professional discipline of nursing,” says Smith.
“I have realized that patients and their family members feel the most appreciative when a nurse shows true compassion,” offers Stephanie Preedom. “This can be as simple as holding someone’s hand and listening or making a family member a cup of coffee. Giving compassionate care is what nursing is all about.”
While a sense of renewed energy and optimism is demonstrated in the collective voice of these nurses, their unique experiences reflect integrity and perseverance. They received their training and education during an unprecedented time in history which should benefit our community for years to come.
“This career is not for a paycheck. You have to love taking care of others, no matter their background; listen to their stories and don’t mind getting your hands and clothes dirty,” says Jennifer Stafford.
“Understand there will be long days ahead but at the end when you reflect, know you made a difference. Smile and do it again the next day.” —
-Story: Sarah Parsons West for NMC, April/May 2022
“Additional / Q & A with Graduating Nursing Scholarship Recipients”
What has been the most beneficial aspect of training during the global-pandemic years?
“The first time I went into a room to take care of a patient with COVID-19 I was nervous. Eventually, it became easier to do and just part of my job. It is rewarding to work alongside other healthcare professionals in our corner of the world during the pandemic and remember that everyone is in this together.” -Stephanie Preedom, St. Albans
“I was proud to still have a job and to be working in healthcare. Although uncertain at times, everyone was scared of COVID. NMC made sure we were safe and that our patient’s safety came first. I was working through a pivotal moment in history and proud of it. I am very proud to be helping our community as a healthcare worker and will continue to help wherever I can.” -Jennifer Stafford, Fairfax
“Attending nursing school during a pandemic made it very difficult to socialize and be exposed to members of the community. If diagnosed with COVID and not able to complete my clinicals, I would not graduate.” – Jen Belanger, St. Albans
What does your future ‘dream position’ look like?
“My career aspirations are to work with women and infants. I would love to be a labor and delivery nurse and eventually a certified nurse midwife.” -Stephanie Preedom
“The end of life is a beautiful phase when it is done with class, empathy, and support,” says Jennifer Stafford, who hopes for a future in hospice or respite nursing.
“I will now have the honor of joining the NMC OR team. I will be able to commit my life to the future of healthcare in my community and NMC.” -Jen Belanger
Words of Appreciation:
“The support I got from my husband was nothing short of amazing. Even when he left for deployment in May 2021, he always supported us from afar,” says Jennifer Stafford.
“NMC staff made a difficult situation (COVID) into the best learning environment. They made sure we were still able to do clinicals and got the hands-on experience we needed to get. Thank you to all the fabulous nurses who welcomed and gave us lasting nursing advice.” -Jennifer Stafford
“My first boss at NMC, Kim Goss, told me I should become a nurse after receiving positive patient feedback on my performance as a CMA. Thanks, Kim,” Stafford reflects.
“I appreciate our class size. We often break into small groups and practice skills together, which has been invaluable to my learning experience.” -Stephanie Preedom
“The one-on-one attention we students were able to have, as well as the relationships that were built within the class exceeded my expectations. The St. Albans VTC class became a family. The relationships that have been made with many of the hospital’s employees, have given me opportunities I never thought possible.” – Jen Belanger