Graduates stand with Memorial leadership after the pinning ceremony. From left: Art Mathisen, president of Memorial Hospital; graduates Paige Lautenschlager, Elizabeth Hockmuth, Nicholas Dukehart, David Frankowski, Emily Fournier, and Amy Lindgren; and Kris Dascoulias, chief nursing officer. (MEGAN PENNY PHOTO)

CONWAY — While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many school graduations to be canceled, the nursing staff at Memorial Hospital made sure to honor their graduating student nurses with a traditional ceremony last Wednesday, welcoming these new nurses to their profession.

Wednesday also happened to be National Nurses Day.

The graduating nurses participating in the event were, from White Mountains Community College, Natalie Harmon, Paige Lautenschlager, Emily Fournier, Nicholas Dukehart, David Frankowski, Amy Lindgren, Chelsea Scribner and Michael Kane; and from University of Southern Maine, Elizabeth Hockmuth.

“A pinning ceremony is an invitation to graduates to join the nursing profession,” said Shauna Ross, RN and clinical manager, a member of the Memorial staff. “These students have all done their clinical rotations here and have worked hard.”

The nine students have all completed their school requirements, eight from White Mountains Community College and one from University of Southern Maine.

White Mountain Community College needed in-person classes in March and finished their semester using virtual classrooms.

Each of the students was awarded a pin. Usually, the nursing pin represents the student’s nursing school. Since their school pins were not available, Memorial awarded pins usually presented to recognize outstanding service by employees.

The students also recited the Nightingale Pledge, promising to “practice my profession faithfully.”

Joining them were a dozen or so other hospital nurses gathered to congratulate these new professionals and also reflect on their own service as nurses.

Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Kris Dascoulias says nursing can be “pretty rough.”

It is a profession she says, “that requires extreme knowledge and a willingness to put others above yourself. As you start your journey. Remember you are not alone. As a nursing graduate, you have earned the right to wear a nursing pin.”

Among those receiving was Nicholas Dukehart of Conway, who began work at the hospital in February as part of the emergency management team.

A paramedic since 2006, he was ready for the next step in his health-care career.

Nursing, he says, “allowed me to go into different specialties such as the ICU and the OR as well as the emergency department.”

His background as a paramedic also helped as the hospital’s planning and response to COVID-19 coincided with his first days on the job.

Paige Lautenschlager of Madison, N.H., also received and unexpected pandemic experience as part of her final nurse training.

“It’s frightening to be thrown into this (pandemic). It was also interesting to get my professors’ and co-workers’ viewpoints” as the situation evolved.

She adds, “They also say ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best.’ We were well prepared.”

Lautenschlager chose to work as part of the hospital’s medical surgical team due to the variety of challenges.

“You get the elective surgery, patients from the ER, sometimes pediatrics. It’s never the same,” she said.

The students were very complimentary of their college instructors, especially their response to teaching after classes were suddenly moved to an online format.

“It was a hard time for everybody,” Lautenschlager said. “Usually nursing is hands-on and we had a lot left to learn. They did an amazing job in putting things together at the last minute and using the resources they had. I’m grateful for it.”

She also complimented her Memorial co-workers who often stepped in to teach.

“They were always showing me things, asking questions. Always looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge.”

Memorial has extended job offers to all of their graduating student nurses.

Hospital Communications Director Tim Kersher said their being hired was "an acknowledgement of the quality of this class and the way they have handled the extraordinary circumstances of their final semester."

Each student’s final licensure will be determined after sitting for the NCLEX exam, the national nursing boards. Schedules for the NCLEX remain unclear due to COVID-19.

Until then, students can work as graduate nurses under the supervision of a registered nurse.

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