Bobcat Nurse Fall 2020

From the Desk of Dean Shannon

To say that fall semester 2020 has been unusual is to state the obvious. The COVID-19 global public health crisis has created extraordinary challenges for health care and higher education.

Nurses are educated to assess, plan and act. This is basic to learning to “think like a nurse”. Nurses enter every situation assessing: for environmental factors that put elderly persons at risk for falls or small children at risk for poisonings, …. for what might be needed in an emergency. Next nurses plan for how to lessen risks, prepare for disasters. Finally, nurses act – putting plans into motion and then assessing effectiveness to allow constant quality improvement.

Over the past months, faculty in MSU College of Nursing have been thinking like nurses. We evaluated the rapidly evolving situation, concluding that ensuring an uninterrupted pipeline of nurses, nurse leaders and nurse practitioners was critical to Montana’s and the nation’s health. Second, we prepared to deliver high quality nursing education. We made masks, social distancing and daily health screens mandatory for all students, faculty and staff. We invested in virtual simulation anticipating that access to clinical learning was likely to be interrupted during this time of pandemic. Now we are acting. As COVID-19 cases in Montana increase, our nursing students are gaining valuable additional clinical experiences including SARS-CoV-2 testing and flu vaccine drive-through clinics. We are strictly enforcing quarantine when indicated, providing virtual simulation to allow students to continue learning.

I have mixed feelings when I read the signs proclaiming, “Nurses are Heroes”! While many nurses have done truly remarkable things during this pandemic, much of what the public has become aware of is that nurses think like nurses. As individuals and as a profession, nurses are critical to the health of the people we serve – Montanans, Americans, humans. During this time of crisis, we remind ourselves of the privilege and joy of being a nurse and a nurse educator.

5 campuses ONE COLLEGE

MSU American Indian Heritage Day

Winter Old Elk, a junior Caring for Our Own nursing student participated in a fashion show during the MSU American Indian Heritage Day celebrated in September of 2020.

Creating a Mosaic

Dr. Yoshiko Colclough

With the creation of the Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer position at MSU, now is the time to take a critical look at the organization and coordination of MSU’s diversity-related efforts. Dr. Yoshiko Colclough has enthusiastically agreed to serve as the Academic Diversity Partner for the 20-21 academic year and will be keeping the college up to date on diversity and inclusion activities as well as starting a diversity and inclusion plan for the College of Nursing. Thank you, Yoshi, for taking on this important role for the College.

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Montana Advantage Nursing Scholarships (MANS)

American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the College of Nursing will have more opportunities to earn scholarships thanks to a new $2.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration. MANS, administered by the Caring for Our Own Program (CO-OP), aims to keep AI/AN students in school and increase their graduation rates.

“The CO-OP has a 20-year track record demonstrating that the nursing shortage in rural and tribal areas of Montana can be solved. This funding will accelerate our progress,” Dr. Laura Larsson
The Caring for Our Own Program supports 57 American Indian pre-nursing & nursing students

Interdisciplinary Success

Monti's American Indigenous Business Team

Turtle Island Tales has a special place in Monti Pavatea Gilham’s heart. Monti, Program Manager of the Caring for Our Own Program, is the advisor for the MSU student chapter of American Indigenous Business Leaders (AIBL). AIBL is dedicated to empowering American Indigenous business students. Monti’s student team took first place in a business plan competition at the organization’s national conference. The team created a sustainable business model for Turtle Island Tales, a research-based monthly shipment subscription program to help children and families make healthy choices. Monti said, “AIBL has always been an interest of mine, with the combination of education, business and economic development for tribal communities.” From Nursing to Business Monti is a proven partner for interdisciplinary projects involving Native students. (story adapted from MSU News Service Aug. 11, 2020)

Monti Pavatea Gilham
The Caring for Our Own Program provided 26 Montana Advantage Nursing Scholarships

Violet Moran


First ICU in Madison, Wisconsin

Violet Moran (colorized picture) 2020; Violet Moran standing right (black and white picture) 1960s
“My education at MSU prepared me to feel confident in clinical practice and leadership roles. I was able to lead or contribute to the development of national standards for continuing nursing professional development.” Violet Moran

In 1962, Violet Moran moved from Montana to Madison, Wisconsin to take the next step in her nursing career. She was energetic, determined and only a few months into her new role as the assistant director of nursing and nurse aid educator at Methodist Hospital when she read an article about a new model of care at a hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The article described the first ever intensive care unit (ICU) which placed acutely ill patients into one area of the hospital. From a nursing perspective, the concept made complete sense to Violet. In the 1960’s, critically ill patients were placed throughout the hospital, which made it difficult for the nursing staff to provide the best possible care. It was also common for a patient’s family to hire a private duty nurse when a loved one needed extra support while in the hospital.

Violet credits her Montana upbringing for her “can do” attitude, and it didn’t take her long to become the driving force behind creating Madison’s first intensive care unit. Violet knew of an open wing on the hospital’s fifth floor, sketched out what the unit might look like and presented the idea to her supervisor.

With a nod from management, Violet conducted a two-month study, rallied physician support and wrote policies for the new unit. The board of directors approved construction and on May 13, 1963, Methodist Hospital opened the first intensive care unit in the city – all thanks to a young nurse named Violet Moran.

This year, a renovation of the ICU space at UnityPoint Health – Meriter reflects the continuing importance of caring for acutely ill patients in an environment designed to meet their critical needs. (Story adapted from UnityPoint Health Meriter Foundation Winter 2019 newsletter Inspire)

The Caring for Our Own Program provided 9 IHS service commitment scholarships

Reimagine Learning

Curriculum Refresh

The world is rapidly changing, and the College of Nursing (CON) is reimagining learning to meet the demands of this change. A BSN curriculum refresh, driven by special CON work group, is currently underway. The work group developed a curriculum that is competency-based to ensure students graduate with the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes needed to be successful in today’s rapidly changing health care climate. This new curriculum is framed around the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Baccalaureate Essentials Domains and Competencies. The CON’s faculty have consistently provided invaluable input and approval ensuring the curriculum will prepare students to be nurses in the 21st century.

Rolling Admissions

Masters Program - More Opportunities to Apply

Prospective graduate students seeking admission to the College of Nursing’s Master of Nursing, Clinical Nurse Leader program don’t have to wait a whole year to begin their degree. The College of Nursing implemented a rolling admissions model for the Master’s degree. Admitted students have the opportunity to begin the program spring, summer or fall semesters and finish on a full or part-time track.

The Caring for Our Own Program has graduated 116 American Indian nurses since 1999


Clinical skills review - helping our students gain confidence after the COVID-19 shutdown.

Rural Ready Nurse Practitioners

ANEW Scholars

The College of Nursing in collaboration with Montana Area Health Education Center received a federal grant of nearly $2.8 million to prepare Doctor of Nurse Practice students to be Rural Ready Nurse Practitioners. The Advanced Nursing Education Workforce (ANEW) Training grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides financial and education assistance to individuals dedicated to practice in a Rural Setting.

Introducing a few of our current ANEW Scholars:

ANEW Scholar

Ryann Smelser

Track: Doctor of Nursing Practice, Family/Individual

Undergrad: BSN through WGU and ASN through Miles City Community College.

Hometown: Ismay, MT and then Glendive, MT

Currently Located In: Glendive, MT

Interests: Volleyball, Sewing and Baking. I love being with my family and helping my kids learn how to ride horses and live a little Western.

Interesting Fact: I lived in California for almost 12 years and rode my motorcycle everywhere I needed to go. It was my goal to see more of the world when I graduated from Glendive, MT and was able to learn about many cultures while in CA.

ANEW Scholar

Deni Fitzpatrick

Track: Doctor of Nursing Practice, Psychiatric/Mental Health

Undergrad: 2016 received BSN from Montana State University-Bozeman

Hometown: Cut Bank, MT

Currently Located In: Cut Bank, MT

Interests: After obtaining my nursing license I worked at the Browning IHS Hospital. I worked on the inpatient medical surgical and postpartum unit for a year. During my time as an IHS nurse, I saw the increased need for more mental health services for the Blackfeet Reservation. This sparked my interest and motivation to return back to school with a future goal to provide mental health care to my rural native community.

Interesting Fact: I love spending my time with my family. I have three daughters under the age of seven with my significant other Casey. My family and I enjoy spending time outdoors-fishing, swimming, riding horses, and enjoying the land.

ANEW Scholar

Sarah Nordlund

Track: Doctor of Nursing Practice, Family/Individual

Undergrad: Miles Community College

Hometown: Jordan

Currently Located In: Jordan

Interests: Photography, gardening, decorating, running, hunting, fishing and shopping

Interesting Fact: I would remove cysts all day if I could!

ANEW Scholar

Matthew Hoffman

Track: Doctor of Nursing Practice, Family/Individual

Undergrad: Luther College – Decorah, IA (BAN)

Hometown: Hartland, Wisconsin

Currently Located In: Helena, MT

Interests: Trail running, gardening, hiking, fishing, and spending time with my wife and our two border collies, Oliver and Turbo.

Interesting Fact: I am a Packers fan. GO PACK GO!

272 BSN Graduates EACH YEAR, largest supplier of Baccalaureate prepared nurses in Montana.

Travis Toelkes

Class of 2014 Montana State University College of Nursing

Rising to the Challenges

Growing up, Travis Toelkes always knew he wanted to do something in health care, but wasn’t sure what. He followed a pre-med curriculum in college and did an internship with a chiropractor, but he realized that wasn’t a good fit. After college, he did deep tissue massage for eight years and then led teens on outdoor adventure camps, guiding them through backpacking, rock climbing and whitewater rafting. When some friends started going into nursing, they told him about the multiple career paths open to nurses. Travel nursing appealed to him for the chance to work in new places, and in 2014 Travis earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing through the College of Nursing accelerated program.

After a couple of years working as a travel nurse Travis took a job at MUSC Health as a Meduflex (floating) nurse. This summer when the number of COVID-19 patients escalated he volunteered to help organize a COVID-19 unit from scratch and to work on one of these COVID units. Travis now spends his time caring for COVID patients who need hospitalization but aren’t so ill that they require ICU-level care. Many of the patients are Spanish speakers who understand a bit of English but not enough to really understand the doctors. Travis, who speaks fluent conversational Spanish, makes sure to follow up and help put these patients at ease. He said, “It makes a huge difference to the patients to have someone walk into the room who can speak their language. I make a concerted effort to offer those language skills to everybody because being in the hospital is a scary situation. For me personally, that’s the most rewarding – I can help Spanish-speaking patients feel more relaxed and cared for.”

Travis Toelkes
“The ABSN program prepared me for nursing by forcing me to manage my time efficiently and learning the art of assessment. I use these skills everyday on the floor and even more so when we were opening the covid-19 unit.” - Travis Toelkes

Travis has been accepted to a family nurse practitioner program and hopes to work in a holistic practice that can help people to make healthy choices. But for now, he’ll be caring for COVID patients for the foreseeable future. “We have challenges, but we’re rising to them,” Toelkes said. (Story adapted from Front-line Faces: Bringing a human connection to COVID unit. By Leslie Cantu – MUSC, Charleston, SC.)

71 DNP graduates since 2016 - our DNP graduates score significantly higher on the certification exam in all competencies compared to the national average

We are proud of our new American Academy of Nursing Fellow, Dr. Laura Larsson, PhD, RN

"I am truly honored to join this accomplished group of nurses. I think this is a rich opportunity to network with nurses who have positively influenced health policy across the country. The focus of the American Academy is combining our collective power to bring positive change to health care. I hope to learn as much as I can from the fellows and share those lessons with my students and partners in Montana.” - Dr. Laura Larsson

Dr. Larsson has been named a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing for her significant contributions to health and health equity. Dr. Larsson’s focus is on community-based research to advocate preventative care for vulnerable groups. She has made a sustained impact on health policy and health in Montana. Dr. Larsson will be recognized in October 2020 at the academy’s annual conference.

Larsson joins a group of 230 new fellows representing 39 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territory of Guam and 13 countries. The academy currently comprises more than 2,700 nursing leaders who are experts in policy, research, administration, practice and academia that champion health and wellness, locally and globally. (story adapted from MSU News Service, Anne Cantrell, Aug. 17, 2020)

Welcome New Tenure Track Faculty

Margaret Hammersla, PhD, ANP-BC

Doctorate: University of Maryland; Clinical practice:  internal medicine with a geriatric medicine focus; Expertise:  simulation development, inter-professional education, curriculum development; Personal interests: hiking

What do you love about Montana? What do you love about Montana? “I love the mountains and the open space. But the thing that I have most come to appreciate is the people. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming. People slow down to say hello. People are happy to hear my story and give me pointers about being a Montanan, good places to hike and camp and suggestions on how to deal with all of the snow.” - Margaret Hammersla

Denise S. Rivera, EdD, MSN

Doctorate: Wilmington University; Joy of teaching: inquiry-based education; active participatory learning; Research focus: transgender nursing; Personal interests:  meditation, fishing, and hiking

What do you love about Montana? “I love Montana for its natural beauty, and its warm and welcoming people.” - Denise S. Rivera

Congratulations to Our Recent Faculty Graduates!

Tami Creek, MN, RN

Tami received her Masters of Nursing in Nursing Leadership from Montana State University May 2020.

Jennifer Boone, DNP, MSN, CMSRN

Jennifer received her Doctor of Nursing Practice in Nursing Leadership from Cappella University in June 2020.
108 Rural Primary Care Track Undergraduate Nursing Students 22 Rural Ready Nurse Practitioner Scholars


RexSim, a training platform, was created by Rexanne Weiferich (Clinical Instructor, Assistant Campus Director) to allow students and clinicians to become proficient at proper Electrocardiograms (ECG) acquisition. The project was recently awarded a CATalyst GapFund to further develop a patent-pending prototype. The aim of the project is to commercialize and provide a cost-effective training platform that will be accessible to any health care institute or training center. The goal is to enhance student and clinician ECG skills placing leads in the correct location on patients. Why RexSim? ECG is considered the “gold standard” of non-invasive cardiovascular testing and provides important information regarding the heart. Most misdiagnosis occur due to improper electrode and/or lead placement. A lack of didactic and manual skills training was recognized as the primary cause for incorrect placement that resulted in misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and poor patient outcomes.

ONE patent pending

Caring for LGBTQ+ Community

When students go through nursing school, they rarely receive training on how to care for patients who identify as LGBTQ . Yet providing culturally appropriate care to this population can help ensure they get essential health care.

“We know that persons who identify as part of the LGBTQ communities often feel discrimination at their provider’s office,” says Cami Armijo-Grover, Education Director at Bridgercare. “And this leads to higher rates of substance abuse, mental health concerns, and even suicide.”

This semester, students in the nursing program join students in the dietetics program to learn about how to be healthcare allies to the LGBTQ+ communities. They will work in interdisciplinary teams to interview respondents about what future clinicians should know about providing healthcare to this population. Dr. Sally Moyce from the College of Nursing and Dr. Colleen McMilin from the College of Education, Health and Human Development lead this effort. (story adapted from MSU News Service, Anne Cantrell, July 2, 2020)

64 ABSN students admitted EACH YEAR

When I heard 2020 was going to be "The Year of the Nurse" this is not what I expected... ---- unknown


Photos by Susan Myers-Clack