Seeing the first class of Cayman-trained registered nurses complete their studies was as much a relief for Terica Larmond as it was a celebration.
Standing before a crowd of a little over 100 people gathered in the Sir Vassel Johnson Hall at the University College of the Cayman Islands on Thursday, Ms. Larmond, director of the program, heaved a huge sigh.
“I have given birth,” Ms. Larmond said with a smile. “I’ve given birth to 10 new nurses.”
Ms. Larmond and other health and education officials said the moment was historic. It marks the culmination of an eight-year effort to train nurses on-island so they no longer have to go abroad for their studies.
The pinning ceremony, which included the awarding of medals and several achievement trophies along with the traditional nurse’s pin, was something UCCI President Roy Bodden said he envisioned when he first came to the college in 2009. He said he told the committee that interviewed him for the job that he would elevate the academics at the school by establishing programs in the performing arts and in nursing.
Mr. Bodden said he worked with current Health Services Authority Chief Nursing Officer Hazel Brown for four years to lay the foundation for the nursing program before the first class of 14 nurses began their studies. Ten have now completed the four-year program.
“This is a great achievement,” Mr. Bodden said. “I wanted something to bond the university to the community. We have a direct connection.”
The students will receive their bachelor-degree diplomas at UCCI’s commencement event Thursday, Nov. 2, but they will not officially become RNs – registered nurses – until they receive passing grades on their licensure exams. Results from the exams aren’t expected until the second week in November.
“Based on their academic performance, we expect them all to pass,” said Mr. Bodden.
Graduating nurse Cynthia Powell, 33, who received the award for top nursing student, has been working for years as a practical nurse, but found it limiting. She said she jumped at the chance to enroll in the inaugural class at UCCI.
“For me, it was more exciting to have a program here on island,” Ms. Powell said. “I was like, ‘Finally.’”
She said her future patients will benefit from the program as well.
“I think doing the program in Cayman helped us adapt to the culture here,” Ms. Powell said. “We know the hospital, we know the retirement home, and I think we can relate more to the patients.”
The program proved challenging, Ms. Powell said, not only because it was academically rigorous, but because she had to balance her studies with working and fitting in family time – she has four children, the youngest of whom was 1 year old when she began her studies – and even playing for the school’s flag football team.
Jody Syms, 30, also worked as a practical nurse while going through the program. She recalled “many sleepless nights” when she had to devote herself to studying. She said the small cohort of students relied on one another.
“We’re our own little family,” Ms. Syms said. “I think we all pushed each other.”
They also supported one another when it was needed, said Stephanie Bodden, 21, the youngest member of the class.
“We all had our emotional breakdowns and we helped each other,” Ms. Bodden said.
The struggle, said Ms. Syms, was worth it.
“Once you’re an RN, the doors are open to you,” she said, adding that she may become a maternity nurse or go into public health. “There are so many options.”
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said providing a pathway to those options is an important change.
“We have desired for a long time to train our nurses,” Mr. Seymour told the crowd, before directly addressing the nursing students. “You are leading the way. And now that you’re about to graduate, [you] will play a vital role in the delivery of healthcare in our country.”
Many of the speakers encouraged the graduates to continue to learn and to help the program by mentoring the students coming behind them.
“You are at a great momentous point, but it is not a time to rest,” said the Health Services Authority’s Ms. Brown. “You are the light-bearers for this school.”
The graduates seemed to recognize that.
“It doesn’t end here,” said Ms. Bodden.
Her fellow nurse, Ms. Syms nodded. “It’s just the beginning,” she said.