DSU alumni and partners speak on the potential cut of the nursing program

More than 400 people have signed an online petition to "Keep Dickinson State Nursing Alive." The petition, which was created Saturday, was organized by DSU students who are fearful that their nursing department might face the chopping block becau...

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Dickinson State University's legislative funding in the current biennium will decrease as a result of declining student enrollment, North Dakota University System Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen told the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday. (Press File Photo)

More than 400 people have signed an online petition to "Keep Dickinson State Nursing Alive."

The petition, which was created Saturday, was organized by DSU students who are fearful that their nursing department might face the chopping block because of state funding allocations.

DSU President Thomas Mitzel announced on Jan. 13, that if the former governor's proposed $7.5 million budget cut was approved, the university may have to make financial decisions that would "eliminate the core of who we are."

While DSU faculty, staff, students and alumni are rallying with legislators to save the nursing program, the reality of the situation is setting in for professionals in the area that partner with DSU.

Stacy Kilwein, coordinator for West Dakota Parent and Family Resource Center for the Dickinson Public Schools District, said that if the nursing program is cut, it will also affect local fifth and sixth grade students.


The public school districts partner with DSU nursing students to assist in teaching the Changing Program-a puberty education class.

The program began more than 19 years ago when a group of parents asked the school board to consider a program to clear up misconceptions that students have about their bodies as they go through puberty, Kilwein said.

"Not only is this program done in Dickinson," she said. "This program is done in schools in South Heart, Taylor and Belfield ... so there are other schools that the nursing students are just instrumental in helping the program be what it is."
A staff member accompanies two DSU students when they go to each fifth and sixth grade classroom twice throughout the semester. Kilwein said there is not enough manpower without the nursing students to continue the class.

"They are just such an important part of the program," she said. "The DSU Nursing Program is a vital part of DSU and offers many many things within our community that helps to strengthen our community, educate our students and make our community stronger."
Tom Arnold, a doctor at CHI St. Alexius Health and the DSU Heritage Foundation board president, said that keeping the nursing program is vital to the area.

"My feelings are that, from a medical perspective and from the medical community here in Dickinson, we rely heavily upon the nursing program at Dickinson State University," he said. "Traditionally it has been a very strong program, and we have benefited from that because a lot of our nursing staff at our hospital and in our clinics were trained there. It would be very detrimental to the medical well-being of southwestern North Dakota if the nursing program was discontinued."

Arnold said that if legislators give DSU the small push it needs to make it through the next biennium that enrollment numbers will only keep increasing, and the university will be in a much better situation.

"I am very positive that the Legislature will recognize how important the program is and along with the university we will find a way to fulfill whatever financial obligations to continue the program through the next biennium," he said.

Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nursing Association and the West Region Clinical Operations Director for Sanford Health Dickinson, said that she has always been proud to be a DSU nurse and that the program graduates quality nurses through their Associate in Applied Science in Practical Nursing Program and Bachelor of Science in Nursing Completion Program.


"The Dickinson State University Nursing (Program) produces fantastic nurses who critically think," she said. "They are smart and intelligent. They are needed in our work force and losing them would be a tragedy."

Johnson said that colleges and coworkers also remark on the quality of the DSU graduates when they enter the field.

"A lot of my coworkers and fellow nurses in the state, we always say you can always tell who the DSU graduates are in your workplace," she said. "You can pick them out from anywhere."
Johnson said the NDNA has been rallying in front of legislators to keep the nursing program alive at DSU, and that the idea of losing a program is "frightening."

"We know that there is a nursing shortage across the state and across the country," she said. "We are always promoting nursing education, especially in our rural areas, and the thought of losing any program in the state would be a major hardship for our practice."

Johnson is also sharing the online petition as much as possible, she said.

Monday afternoon, the petition already had 423 signatures and over 1,000 likes on social media. The link to the petition can be found at: .

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