Guess it is a 16 month program for those with BS's in other fields. NOTE they are told they can't work during the program! UGA graduates first class of master's nursing leaders |

Seven Athens-area residents became pioneers of sorts Friday - the first in Athens to receive master's degrees as clinical nurse leaders through the Medical College of Georgia's School of Nursing at Athens.

The seven - six women and a man - completed the new 16-month degree program, which is designed for people who have already received a bachelor's degree in a field outside nursing.

Students are told they can't work full time during the 16 months because the training gets too demanding, said Cynthia Mundy, director of the clinical nurse leader program.

Students learn not only basic nursing capabilities but business, leadership and reasoning skills in traditional classrooms, at Web-based distance courses and during clinical training in an Athens hospital.

"We call it high-tech, high-touch," said Robin Johns, campus coordinator at the School of Nursing at Athens.

During their 16 months, the nurses-in-training earned 60 semester hours of college credit - and got 1,300 hours of clinical experience working at Athens Regional Medical Center, about 30 percent more than nurses who graduate with an undergraduate degree.

ARMC also donated $37,000 in the first year and paid an ARMC nurse to be a clinical instructor in the program.

St. Mary's Health Care System has joined in to help train the second class of 13 students.

Nursing school in the clinical leaders program was a lot different than undergraduate school, said Alicia Reuter, one of Friday's graduates.

"It was a world of difference," said Reuter, who got a bachelor's degree in health promotion and behavior from the University of Georgia five years ago. "We weren't taking naps during the day like in undergraduate college.

For 16 months, when you woke up in the morning 'til you go to bed, there's work to be done. Balancing that with your personal life, it took a lot of strength and courage sometimes just to kind of keep going."

Reuter is not complaining about the program's rigor, however.

"It's definitely one of the best things I could ever have done with my life," she said. "Now that it's over, I feel like I can take on anything."

Reuter and Valarie Smith, another graduate, said the Athens classmates became like a family - five of them took a trip to the Dominican Republic together to celebrate the end of their classes.

"I would trust my family with any of them," said Smith, who entered the program after receiving a master's degree in public administration at UGA.