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May 8, 2020

Class of 2020: SVSU nursing grads finish semester early to join COVID-19 fight

When enrolling at Saginaw Valley State University, Kylie Ostrofsky understood the nursing program’s strong reputation for developing top-of-the-line health care workers. She expected faculty and staff would prepare her well to pursue her professional ambitions.
 
What she was not expecting back then: That, as her graduation day approached in May 2020, the university would also prepare her to immediately join the frontlines of a global pandemic straining the health care industry. But that's exactly what happened for Ostrofsky and many members of her academic program's graduating class already occupying critical positions at medical facilities across the state.
 
“Being a new nurse is already difficult, as there is always going to be that jump from student to professional,” said the Frankenmuth resident. “The pandemic brought it to another level.”
 
Ostrofsky was one of 72 students in SVSU’s nursing program who completed the program more than one week early in response to a state of Michigan executive order allowing graduating college students to enter the health care workforce before the official end of their final semester this month. The measure was aimed at strengthening staffing levels at medical facilities struggling to manage high volumes of patients testing positive for COVID-19.
 
As a result, graduates such as Ostrofsky are on track to serve as registered nurses earlier than originally scheduled, largely at regional health care facilities. Ostrofsky, for one, will soon begin her registered nurse career at Covenant HealthCare’s intensive care unit in Saginaw.
 
The fast-tracked process abbreviated SVSU's nursing program by less than two weeks for seniors. Despite the shortened semester, students and faculty say the graduates received the same high level of education as their predecessors who finished semesters in traditional fashion.
 
“Our professors were there for us and helped us finish strong,” Ostrofsky said. “Even though I knew I would be scared no matter what, I feel ready to do my part and make a difference in whatever way I can.”
 
That show of resilience and sense of community spirit is a common characteristic among the 72 graduates, said Andrea Frederick, an SVSU associate professor of nursing.
 
“They were absolutely ready for this,” said Frederick, a 10-year educator at SVSU who worked as a nurse from 1976-2010.
 
“I’m in awe of their courage and their compassion and their drive to want to get out there to make a difference in the health of their community. They’re rock stars. We’re all very proud of them.”
 
The 72 graduates are part of a larger group of SVSU students being prepared to work on the frontlines of the pandemic in the coming months. Of the 1,059 students on schedule to graduate from SVSU between now and August, 404 will be completing academic programs preparing them for jobs in frontline industries including health care, law enforcement and social work.
 
While graduates may seek jobs wherever they choose, Frederick said many nursing alumni likely will land at facilities in the region.
 
Another nursing program graduate, Connor Freel, last week became a registered nurse at McLaren Bay Region’s emergency room in Bay City. He served as a patient care associate before completing SVSU’s nursing program last month, then passing the nursing licensing exam known as NCLEX-RN.
 
“Many of my classmates are going to start working in ICUs and various other units across the state, where many hospitals were in need of hiring more nurses,” said the Alpena native. “Our instructors have prepared us well.”
 
After the state issued the executive order allowing nursing seniors to complete their studies early, SVSU faculty and staff reached out to representatives at health care systems in the Great Lakes Bay as well as Genesee County.
 
“We wanted to check to see if they agreed that it would be a good idea to accelerate our program, and they did,” Frederick said.
 
All 72 students completed their last day of studies April 24 – the originally-scheduled end of the semester was May 2 – making them available to begin orientation as employees at health care facilities on April 27.
 
After finishing SVSU’s program, graduates still must complete the NCLEX-RN exam before they can serve as registered nurses. Some members of SVSU's class of 2020 – such as Freel – already have completed that task. Others are scheduled to take the exam in the coming days and weeks. Those graduates still can perform some duties at the medical facilities where they work while awaiting their exam date.
 
Working as a nursing assistant at Covenant HealthCare since 2018, Ostrofsky said she is eager to complete her license exam soon and enter a new phase of her career.
 
“Despite the stress and uncertainty of everything, it has been very powerful to see my co-workers and the medical staff community come together as a whole during these unprecedented times,” she said.
 
“I have received a lot of kind words and support from SVSU and the community, which is so appreciated.”