Sixteen graduates were welcomed into the nursing community Friday at a pinning ceremony at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus.
The pinning ceremony does not convey any legal rights to the students. They still must wait until this weekend to receive their degrees and will have to pass their national council licensure examinations (NCLEX) before they can start their careers as registered nurses.
Rather pinning is a way for nurses to symbolically welcome graduates into the fold of their profession. The ceremony dates back to the 1860s and derives its meaning from the Maltese cross worn by the Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, men who cared for soldiers wounded in the crusades in the 12th century, according to Dr. Cheryl Franklin, dean of the school of nursing.
“The nursing pin has been both literally and symbolically a cross to bear, a badge and a medal,” Franklin said.
During the ceremony she told the graduates that as nurses they will be called on to be courageous and honorable in their practice. She told them their jobs will be challenging at times, but it was their duty to provide excellent care for every patient, even those with no other support.
“Nursing is a cross to bear for those of us who remain with the patient long after all others have gone home and given up hope,” she said. “The pin represents a badge of courage as nurses because we are courageous and caring for those who otherwise would be thrown out into the streets with nowhere else to go.”
During the ceremony, the students dressed in white. They each prepared comments, which were read aloud as loved ones came forward to attach the pins to their shirts and dresses.
Most of the students took the opportunity to publicly thank the parents, spouses and children who supported them through their schooling. One student thanked her father for paying her WAPA bill and never complaining about the times she fell asleep studying with the light on.
Another told her husband that she would finally honor her promise “to clean the house after graduation.”
Jahdel Jules, one of the graduates, had his whole family come up for the pinning ceremony in honor of his father who passed away shortly after he joined the nursing program. Jules said he had faced the choice of dropping out or continuing on and, ultimately, it was the encouragement of his father that saw him through.
“Help others who cannot help themselves,” he recalled his father saying.“Do not worry about me son. Why are you crying? I have Jesus.”
The ceremony was also a joyful day for the Juan F. Luis Medical Center, which has been aggressively recruiting registered nurses this year. The hospital has stated that replacing expensive travel nurses with local RNs is a key element of their plan to improve their troubled finances.
Justa Encarnacion, chief nursing officer at JFL, said that 15 of the 16 graduates had agreed to take jobs at the hospital after they’ve passed their NCLEX exams.
Encarnancion gave a short speech during the ceremony, telling the graduates she looked forward to working with them and encouraging them to “lead from the patient’s bedside” to ensure quality care.
Clarissa Cooper, one of the graduates, said JFL recruiters had started reaching out to her class months ago and that she was happy to take a position there. She said she wished to remain on the island and that, after doing countless hours of clinicals at the hospital, it seemed natural to join the staff.
“It feels like family at this point,” she said.