Jessica Salvatore knows what pressure looks and feels like. She was a newly minted college graduate and a military aircraft maintenance officer in the Air Force when, shortly after some job training, she was thrust into a leadership role and put in charge of 90 others.
“I had the rank, but I had no experience to back that up,” Salvatore explained. “It was recommended that I find a senior enlisted official, work with them, rely on them and be a sponge.”
Six years of full-time military service later, including international special operation missions that took her to Korea, Thailand, Guam and Australia as a senior logistician, Salvatore simply adapted.
“It was an incredible pressure cooker, but it was also incredibly rewarding,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I’ve had for anything.”
Today, Salvatore does the one weekend a month and a two-week tour schedule as an Air Force reservist, but she’s also about a year into the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science’s intensive Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) at the University of San Diego.
“I wanted something where I could still use the people skills, leadership and maturity I gained (in my military job),” she said. “One day my mom sent me an article about accelerated nursing programs; I looked at it, researched some programs online and found it appealed to me. I like interacting with people on a smaller scale — one-on-one or engaging small groups — and I thought that I’d want to have a specific skill set, something that I could be certified in.”
Salvatore started her nursing journey by attending Grossmont and Cuyamaca community colleges to get some prerequisite courses out of the way. She applied to the MEPN program, which caters specifically to students who already possess an undergraduate degree, in order to obtain a master’s in nursing in 18 months. The MEPN program started in 2002 and USD’s program was the first of its kind for a graduate nursing school in San Diego.
To ensure she wanted to come to USD, Salvatore, equipped with a BA in Public Administration from San Diego State University and a Master’s in Aviation Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, attended a MEPN open house event.
“I was enchanted,” she said. “I was impressed that they let the students do most of the talking about the program. I thought it spoke to how much trust the director had for the students and their maturity to speak about the program.”
Sold on the atmosphere, the curriculum and people involved, Salvatore is now one of 44 students in her cohort finishing the second semester. It’s been a non-stop ride for Salvatore since it began last August.
The first three weeks of the program was a health assessment “boot camp” which involved learning each of the steps involved in a routine check-up at a doctor’s office. “We take blood pressure, look into the patient’s eyes, test their reflexes, the whole physical exam from head to toe. We did three hours of lecture and three hours in (USD’s Simulation and Standardized Patient Nursing) lab a few days a week,” she said.
MEPN students get more than 300 hours of work in USD’s lab over the duration of the program and it has been the perfect training ground for Salvatore. She’s worked with clinical faculty such as Professor Kathleen Templin for medical and surgical training and Salvatore appreciates Templin’s approach to make nursing students better. “I think we all realize that she pushes us so hard, but it’s so worth it. It’s helped because I know how to do things in a hospital now. They set the bar very high here, but they also prepare you to meet it.”
Salvatore has also participated in a study conducted by nursing faculty Lucia Gonzales and Lois Howland called “Reliability Testing of Tools Assessing Brain Dominance and Learning Styles,” one of several nursing research projects to be displayed at Thursday’s fifth annual Graduate Research Day, starting at 12:30 p.m. in the Hahn University Center’s Forum rooms.
Salvatore hopes to do an internship in this fall, perhaps as a nurse’s aide at San Diego’s Balboa or VA hospitals, two facilities that would mesh together her military background and a deepening passion for nursing.
“In some ways being in the program parallels what I did in the Air Force,” she said. “There’s a certain expectation that goes along with it, yet I’m a novice (nurse). I’ve really embraced the novice role here; I’m a student, I’m no longer a subject-matter expert. That humility has really helped me.”
— Ryan T. Blystone