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The first cohort of Dominican University nursing students to gain hands-on learning experience through a Dedicated Education Unit at Rush Oak Park Hospital recently marked the completion of a successful semester.

A small celebration took place in April on Floor 6 West for the five juniors and two seniors who learned new skills and cared for patients under the direction of experienced nurses and Dominican Clinical Instructor Maura Waldron. During their semester of clinical work, the students immersed themselves in the role of a nurse, accessing and providing care for a wide range of patients in the 39-bed unit. Juniors learned new nursing skills, while the seniors working alongside them took on new leadership responsibilities.

The Dedicated Education Unit, or DEU, was created through a partnership between Dominican and Rush Oak Park and aims to give students experiential learning opportunities and acquire skills in leadership, mentorship and collaboration right in the community. It is also part of an overall goal to attract more nursing students to Dominican and grow the number of hospital nurses amid nationwide shortages.

More than 32 new juniors are expected to gain experience in the DEU during the fall semester, with some, if not all, of the juniors from the spring semester cohort returning as seniors to take on a peer mentoring and leadership role to their younger counterparts, said Dr. Tamara Bland, dean of the Borra College of Health Sciences who helped develop the DEU.

“We’ve met our goals to start collaborations, not just between DU and Rush, but between nursing students—and that has been nice to see,” Bland said. “There’s a cohesiveness among the group. We want to continue that.”

Angela Cooper, chief nursing officer at Rush Oak Park, credited Dominican for its collaboration as well.

“I appreciate the fact that Dominican has an established program and really supports their students,” she said. “That’s probably the most important thing we can do to have a successful and easy transition for nurses when they come into practice.”