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Kennesaw State University master’s students Faith Chapman and Clay Roelle.

A pair of Kennesaw State nursing students found themselves in elite company over the summer, serving a fellowship normally reserved for medical students.

With ongoing changes in national healthcare legislation, family nurse practitioners function at the same level of care in many areas once served exclusively by physicians. In that way, KSU master’s students Faith Chapman and Clay Roelle now find themselves well-prepared for their future careers.

Through the fellowship at Spine Center Atlanta, Chapman and Roelle gained experience in orthopedics, pain management and other areas of medical practice. The pair observed surgeries, treated patients with orthopedic issues and assisted providers in their day-to-day duties.

The students were encouraged to apply for the fellowship at the behest of KSU clinical assistant professor of nursing Alex Giles, who maintains professional connections at Spine Center Atlanta. He said he’s not surprised they earned the hard-to-acquire opportunities and have excelled.

Chapman and Roelle will graduate in December from the Wellstar School of Nursing with Master of Science in Nursing degrees with specialties as primary care nurse practitioners; in practice, they will be called FNPs. On top of class and lab time, they will have spent 630 hours in clinical settings gaining practical experience over four semesters.

Employment trends bear out the wisdom of this career path. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports FNPs made a median wage of more than $110,000 as of May 2020 and predicted job growth of 52% over the next 10 years, well outpacing the national average. In Georgia, the median wage reaches into six figures, and job growth for nurse practitioners reflect the national trend. Interim program director and clinical assistant professor of nursing Karen Fegely said nearly 100% of graduate students in the FNP track pass their boards with their first attempt and are gainfully employed within six months of graduation.

Roelle had employability in mind when he chose nursing as a career path. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2019 from KSU, and then spent two years as an emergency room nurse at Northside Hospital in Canton. Roelle said he realized he wanted to have a nursing job that required versatility across medical disciplines, so becoming an FNP made the most sense for him. KSU’s program fit Roelle’s needs because of its intensive nature — four semesters in 15 months, no summer off, followed by a certification exam and then employment.

While Roelle decided early on a career in nursing, Chapman brought her interest in medicine and desire to help others to nursing. She earned a nursing degree from Georgia Southern in 2004 and then practiced as a registered nurse for more than a decade. She then decided to continue her educational journey, earning a Master’s degree in biomedical sciences from Rocky Vista University in Colorado, where she subsequently completed the first year of medical school. After realizing she needed more time to devote to her growing family she chose to return to nursing. She feels the FNP path will provide a good balance for family and career while also allowing her to serve as an advanced practice provider.

Chapman found KSU’s master’s program via the internet, choosing the practitioner track because of its emphasis on comprehensive care and the variety of career opportunities the FNP degree would provide.

While they took different paths to the FNP track, both Chapman and Roelle confirmed their futures after their summer clinical rotations. They have been offered three-month fellowships at the spine center following graduation.

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