While most Brandon University (BU) students are heading to their first classes today, one group got an early start with three days of intensive orientation sessions last week.
Students in the BU Master of Psychiatric Nursing program came to the BU campus for a round of seminars, faculty research presentations and introductions before heading back home to complete their coursework.
The program — the only Master of Psychiatric Nursing program in North America — is primarily delivered online, to students from across Canada. Adding an in-person component on campus makes a key difference in student success.
“Online learning is challenging,” says Dr. Dean Care, Dean of Health Studies at BU. “It’s about relationships. We’ve have a very intensive three days of orientation and fellowship. One of the great features of our program is this time to get to know each other, and getting to know fellow students. That’s what makes our program unique.”
With 51 students in the program for the 2016–17 academic year, plus five more taking courses with plans for future application to BU’s Master of Psychiatric Nursing, university administrators are pleased with how popular the graduate program has become since its inception in 2011.
“We have students literally from coast to coast, from Victoria, B.C. to Halifax, Nova Scotia,” says Fran Racher, the coordinator of BU’s Master of Psychiatric Nursing program. “And the B.C. contingent is almost as large as the contingent from Manitoba.”
She says that, most students progress through the program in three to four years, taking two to three years to complete the coursework and another year for their thesis.
“Their commitment is amazing,” she says. “Most students are working full-time and raising young families while they complete this degree.”
With the entirety of the course work done by distance, using online learning platforms and electronic discussion forums, the three-day conference to start the academic year takes on extra importance.
“They build a network among themselves, they maintain those relationships, and they learn from each other, share experiences, and are supports for each other,” Racher says. “These students are advanced practitioners who are moving their discipline forward, questioning the current practice, and facilitating change through the sharing of evidence-based knowledge and techniques.”
Racher ticks off a number of research projects that students are currently completing. She notes how one student influences another, and then another, as they learn from experience and expertise in a fellow student’s area and seek to apply it to their own.
“The topic can be front-line mental health services in acute care settings, it can be community mental health, forensics or police-oriented resources, it can be mental health and addictions, they have amazing learning to share,” she says.
“These students understand mental illness and they are committed to the clients they serve. Through their knowledge development and the sharing of it, they are going to change mental health service delivery across Canada.”
- Brandon University
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