Four grueling semesters after its new Family Nurse Practitioner master’s program was first introduced, Stanislaus State held a hooding ceremony for the first-ever graduating class Friday night.
A total of 19 graduates earned their master’s degrees during the first event of its kind at Larsa Hall, including the class cohort representative Courtney Fontana. She and her classmates began their journey through the program during the spring semester of 2018.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “We have a great group who has worked together to support each other, and the faculty has been very supportive in helping us reach our long-term goal. It’s exciting to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”
FNPs have the ability to diagnose medical problems under the nursing model, and those licensed with a furnishing number have the ability to write prescriptions. They can also become a patient’s primary care provider.
“We always say we have the brain of a doctor, but the heart of a nurse,” Fontana said.
While making her way through the FNP program at Stanislaus State, Fontana worked as a nurse at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto. Thanks to her new degree, she’s accepted a position working with low-income communities at Golden Valley Health Center in Newman once she passes her board certification.
The last two years included rigorous coursework, including 675 clinical hours of hands-on experience. Most FNP programs require 500 hours, Fontana said, but she expects the extra work to come in handy when she’s on the job.
“I think the strong clinical base that was included in our program really immersed us in planning care for our patients from day one,” she said. “It makes you feel a lot more confident when you go out into the field.”
Through all of the hard work in the classroom and clinical hours spent in the hospital, what Fontana will cherish the most is the time spent with her fellow cohort of graduates. The group of 19 took every single class together over the past four semesters and went through some of life’s most memorable moments during that time.
“It was never a new face, and we always had the ability to reach out to anyone at any given time,” Fontana said. “People experienced their parent’s death, and even I myself had a baby. Everybody becomes a part of your family and is invested in each other, even though sometimes we even bicker like a family.”
The FNP program at Stanislaus State was started thanks in part to support from Legacy Health Endowment in partnership with Livingston Community Health, which in January 2018 donated $1.6 million specifically for the program. While the university had previously secured approval from the Chancellor’s Office to establish the program in the coming years, the substantial gift allowed Stanislaus State to accelerate the timeline.
This program’s goal is to help alleviate the shortage of primary care providers in the region, which has fewer physicians per capita than any other region in California. According to the Fresno-based Central Valley Health Policy Institute, there are four primary concerns that feed the deficit: lower Medicare reimbursement rates in the Central Valley than in urban areas; one-third of California’s physicians are near retirement age; the lack of academic resources for young doctors; and a desire for young practitioners to work in higher-income areas.
According to Fontana, the placement rate for the program is so far successful.
“I don’t think any of us have had struggles in getting interviews and finding a job,” she said. “It’s more finding the right one and which one is the right fit for us.”