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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee 874-2116

URI nursing student exhibits VALOR
at Veterans Administration Medical Center

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 31, 2003 -- Supervisors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence were so impressed with University of Rhode Island nursing student Matthew Welch that they created a job for him.
When Welch, a senior from Melrose, Mass., completed the national Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunities (VALOR) program with flying colors, the hospital didn’t want to lose him. But because he won’t earn his degree until May and has yet to take the state licensing exam, it couldn’t offer him a nursing slot. So, the hospital created the student-nurse technician post so he would have benefits and be able to accumulate seniority.

Now, hospital personnel are hoping he accepts a job offer. "I have offered Matt a full-time job with a day shift, which is pretty unusual for a new graduate," said Jim Doelling, the nurse-manager at the 71-bed facility, which also has a large outpatient program.

Welch was the first URI student to complete the VALOR program, which is designed to attract the best and brightest of the nation’s baccalaureate nursing students to the Veterans Affairs system. Working with experienced VA nurses, the students earn 80 percent of the income of a new graduate. By providing a positive learning experience and quality care, the VA hopes to encourage students to remain with the system.

Welch completed the 10-week program last August, but remains on the job in the post created specifically for him.

"We have extreme confidence in Matt," Doelling said. "He saved a patient’s life on Election Day."

"I went to check on one of the patients," Welch said, "and he was becoming agitated with his (breathing)

mask. Then he pulled it off, and I recognized that he was going into fibrillation. He stopped breathing, and I began doing CPR, and continued until we arrived in the operating room."

Doelling said Welch brings more than just great skill to the job. "When one of our nurses walked into work one day, she said, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a great day. Matt’s here.’ He just lifts everyone around him."

Welch, who currently lives in Narragansett, says he plugs the VALOR program whenever he works at a nursing job fair. "I really enjoy the patients; they tell great stories and they are really warm."

Welch, who also earned the VA’s Customer Service Award, said he was well prepared for the VALOR program because of URI’s demanding hands-on approach to nursing.

Donna Wiberg, staff development coordinator at the hospital, who holds a master’s degree from URI as a nurse-practitioner, agreed. "Matt’s success at the VA says a lot about the curriculum at URI. To be able to take on so much responsibility with so much confidence says a great deal about his preparation. Because of Matt, we hope to bring more URI students into the program."

Doelling said Welch’s mentor nurse at the medical center, Maria Howard, assigned him some of the toughest patients.

"She gave me the opportunity to do a lot of different things, including work in the operating room and the emergency room," Welch said. "She gave me a chance to experience many new situations."

Dayle Joseph, dean of URI’s College of Nursing, said it pleased her to see how Welch worked with staff members.

"That’s important," Doelling said, "because we need and require teamwork. If we don’t have a team player, that works to the detriment of the staff and the patients."

In a letter detailing Welch’s progress, Howard probably summed up his work in the VALOR program best. "As a novice, Matthew was overwhelmed to see an intensive care patient tethered to the bed with many lines, tubes, drains, equipment and monitoring apparatus. Watching his eyes dart around the room as monitor and ventilator alarms sounded, brought back the not so fond memories of my first days in the ICU."

But he quickly adapted and learned such critical elements as physical assessment in the intensive care unit, pharmacology in the ICU and identification of many life-threatening conditions.

"Matthew has recognized the uniqueness of each patient he has had contact with," Howard said. "It has been a privilege to share my clinical expertise and nursing experience with such a dedicated student nurse and future colleague."

For Further Information: Dayle Joseph 874-2766.

For a digital image, please contact Nancy Gillespie at 401-874-2116.

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