University trains nurses for state's health care needs

Seven graduates honored at ceremony Sunday

Posted: Monday, December 17, 2007

At age 59, Lynn Shephard is launching a new career.

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The mother of four grown children and former teacher, secretary and librarian plans to add one more job title to her list as she earns a degree to become a nurse in Juneau.

Shephard was pinned Sunday along with six of her classmates at a ceremony for graduates of University of Alaska Southeast's nursing program.

Shephard began working toward a nursing certificate more than three years ago. With a background in biology and experience typing manuscripts for doctors doing medical research, she said the decision to become a nurse was a long time coming.

"I've had a long-standing desire to be a health-care practitioner," she said.

She worked three-quarter time in the local library system while attending classes, spending hours studying and not having much of a social life.

It was much the same for all the students - four other women and two men - who had to progress together at the same rate during the two-year program.

Ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s - with two of the women having babies during the course - the group commiserated and studied together, then celebrated after each set of finals.

"We definitely have a life-long bond now that we've gone through nursing school together," said Kim Peterson, 51, a former commercial fisherman from Kodiak.

Sporadic salmon runs since the 1990s spurred Peterson to look for a new career. She received federal grant money designed to help pay retraining for Alaska's fishermen, and signed on.

Shephard and Peterson are part of a growing trend to train health-care workers in Alaska. The University of Alaska has doubled its nursing graduates from its Anchorage campus and, four years ago, started a partnership with Southeast hospitals to train more people in the state.

"Hospitals across our state have saved millions in recent years by simply being able to hire locally trained nurses, instead of importing them from Outside," said university President Mark Hamilton.

While some folks her age might be thinking of retirement, Shephard said she plans to work at least another decade. She hopes to eventually help her daughter, Valerie Joyce-Heffner, 26, who is in medical school, open a private practice.

In the meantime, she has been offered a position at Bartlett Regional Hospital that starts in April.

Peterson expects to start work there in January.

Sunday's graduates bring the tally to 17 newly registered nurses graduating from the local campus. In Ketchikan this month, 10 nurses received their pins at a ceremony held on the Coast Guard base. All plan to practice in Ketchikan, and five of Juneau's recent graduates have been offered positions at Bartlett.

The graduates will take their national examinations in Anchorage early next year.

• Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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