When she dropped out of high school at 16 to care for her ill grandmother, Kelly Soto didn’t realize the experience of ushering her grandmother to medical appointments would lead to a career.
Now 29 and living in Salem, Oregon, Soto just started the second of her three years at the OHSU School of Nursing’s Monmouth campus, which is located at Western Oregon University, about 20 miles southwest of Salem. Though she juggles school with caring for her grandmother and a part-time job as a certified nurse assistant, she’s on track to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing in 2020.
“It’s a very small, but mighty campus,” Soto says of the OHSU Monmouth nursing campus. “The professors are very knowledgeable and passionate about what they teach. I feel supported when I walk onto campus. They encourage you to keep pursuing your dream.”
Locally grown nurses
Soto follows the footsteps of 238 others who have graduated from the Monmouth nursing program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary today. OHSU leaders and faculty joined current and past students of the Monmouth campus for the celebration, which included an annual white coat ceremony for the program’s 32 newest students.
The OHSU School of Nursing started its fifth campus at Monmouth in 2008 to bring more highly educated nurses to the Salem area. Nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher are sought-after because they have more of the detailed skills and knowledge needed to better care for patients. Research has found patients treated at hospitals with more bachelor’s-level nurses have better health outcomes and lower mortality.
“The Monmouth campus has been key these past 10 years in helping the OHSU School of Nursing meet Oregon’s nursing workforce needs,” said OHSU School of Nursing Dean Susan Bakewell-Sachs, Ph.D. R.N., F.A.A.N. “We’re proud to know the education we provide at Monmouth and beyond enables our determined graduates to provide Oregonians quality and compassionate nursing care.”
Monmouth nursing graduates have gone on to work in hospitals, clinics and private practice in Salem, Corvallis, Eugene and numerous small communities in between. While in school, they also contribute to local health through clinical rotations at various healthcare institutions and research projects involving local residents with healthcare challenges and volunteering.
Staying close to home
Among the graduates Soto follows is Julia Balcom, D.N.P., F.N.P.-C., who was a member of the campus’ first graduating class in 2011. After also earning a doctorate in nursing from OHSU’s Portland campus, Balcom became a nurse practitioner at a small clinic in nearby Dallas, Oregon.
“It was a great fit,” Balcom said of her time on the OHSU Monmouth campus. “The small class size meant students got to know each other well and supported each other. There were also more opportunities for an individualized education. Each OHSU nursing campus has its unique flavor and it was an honor to help develop the Monmouth campus’ personality.”
Having grown up in a rural community near Monmouth, Balcom wanted to work in a small town. She was eager to go join the Monmouth program as the first step in her journey toward serving as a nurse practitioner close to home, where she’s passionate about helping rural residents.
“It’s really important to have access to nursing programs in more rural areas,” Balcom said. “It not only encourages locals to consider nursing as a career, but having a nursing program that’s of such high caliber also helps local students be the best possible nurses they can be.”
Soto initially thought she’d have to go to Portland to become a well-educated nurse, but was surprised to hear OHSU had a nursing program nearby. Her OHSU experience has already opened up a new opportunity she hadn’t considered before: becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner. After graduating from Monmouth, she now plans to apply for an OHSU nursing doctorate program.
“If I want to be the best nurse I can, I need the best education I can get,” Soto said.
The creation of the OHSU School of Nursing’s Monmouth campus was made possible by a one-time funding allocation from the state’s 2007-2009 budget, also known as a Policy Option Package, for $1.4 million to the OHSU School of Nursing and $4.5 million in capital funding to Western Oregon University.
Quick Facts about OHSU School of Nursing Monmouth Campus:
- Established fall 2008
- First class graduated spring 2011
- 238 graduates through spring 2018
- 32 students per class
- More than 200 applicants for 32 slots in the Class of 2021
- Associate Dean: Angela Docherty
- One of five regional campuses for OHSU School of Nursing. Other locations:
- Klamath Falls
- La Grande