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Via Christi and Pittsburg State University share legacy of teaching tomorrow's nurses

Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg nursing students

“My mom died of breast cancer three years ago,” says Emily Mika, who just finished her junior year in the nursing program at Pittsburg State University. “I was nervous the first day I had clinical rotation with cancer patients at Via Christi.”

That anxiety was eased when she met her nurse preceptor at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, Kathy McGowen.

“Kathy explained things so well and was easy to talk to,” says Emily. “I don’t think cancer was as hard as I thought it would be. I knew what the families were going through.”

Emily, and two of her nursing classmates, Kate Stein and Kelly Bolin, sit on the steps of Whitesitt Hall on the Pitt State campus as the morning sun glints over the tops of the trees on the Oval. They share their thoughts and experiences as nursing students at Pitt State and Via Christi. They are just one year from graduation and the “real world” of nursing.

A ‘top-notch’ education

Emily, Kate and Kelly each knew from a young age that they wanted to go into nursing. And they each learned quickly that PSU had the program that was the best fit for them.

“The nursing school at Pitt State is top notch,” says Kate. “I knew I wanted to attend a Division II school that was much smaller.”

“The students and faculty are a close-knit group,” says Kelly. “It’s like your home. And I really like how Via Christi and Pitt State work so well together — the people at the school and the hospital have a really good relationship.”

That good relationship is a result of the history of nursing in southeast Kansas.

Answering the call

The Sisters of St. Joseph established Mt. Carmel Hospital in 1903 to serve the southeast Kansas region’s miners and their families. In 1904, Mother Bernard Sheridan opened a school of nursing to help meet the demand for nurses.

In 1964, the first lay woman, Cecilia Waggoner, was named as director of the school. Her legacy of nursing lives on through nurses at both the hospital and university.

The Mt. Carmel School of Nursing continued its mission until 1972, when it was integrated into the newly created department of nursing at Pittsburg State University. Cecilia played an integral role in making the transition a smooth one.

The university has said of her: “Not only did Ms. Waggoner lead all aspects of BSN curriculum development, she hired the faculty and mentored the new faculty.”

Carrying on the tradition

In 2013, the PSU department of nursing became the Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing.

“The name of the school signifies growth and change in nursing education and the world of health care,” says Mary Carol Pomatto, director of the school. “We have a strong program even though it is relatively small.”

The school admits 76 nursing students each fall, who have already completed their general education requirements. The students spend the next two years working strictly in nursing education and completing clinical rotations at a number of facilities in the region, including Via Christi Hospital and Via Christi Village.

“Our history is so closely tied to Via Christi,” says Dr. Pomatto. “The partnership with Via Christi is an integral part of the program at Pitt State.”

“The mentors truly do make a difference to the students,” says Barbara McClaskey, director of the undergraduate nursing program and Cecilia Waggoner’s niece. “They really strive to make the students’ clinical rotations a valuable experience.”

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