Every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:45 a.m., Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Lebanon, N.H., hospital, is awash in a sea of blue scrubs as more than 100 Colby-Sawyer nursing students arrive and disperse to their assigned patient care units. They never know quite what their long days will bring.

During clinicals this fall, four of the seven juniors completing their obstetrics rotation witnessed a birth. Afterward, in the small conference room on Level 5 where they hold debriefing sessions, they buzzed with excitement.

Colby-Sawyer nursing students at DHMC

“From seven in the morning till my patient gave birth, I stood there the entire time,” said Megan Spainhower ’20 of Northwood, N.H. “I haven’t sat down until just now.”

“You need running shoes,” clinical instructor Kim Boulanger joked. Boulanger has worked in the birthing pavilion since 2004 and as a Colby-Sawyer assistant professor since 2012.

Nationally, nursing students have the least amount of clinical experience in pediatrics, obstetrics and mental health. But because of Colby-Sawyer’s longstanding partnership with D-H, its nursing students spend several weeks immersed in each of those areas. In fact, that was the second birth Imani Gaetjens-Oleson ’20 witnessed.

“I always wanted to be an obstetrics nurse,” Gaetjens-Oleson said. “Now that I’m here, I’ve never felt more in my element. I never want to leave.”

Colby-Sawyer nursing students at DHMC

Plenty of Colby-Sawyer nursing students have felt the same way: 20 of the 28 graduates from the Class of 2018 work at D-H. In total, D-H employs 171 Colby-Sawyer nurses.

“If our students wish to have a job at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, most of them have an offer before they finish their final year,” Chief Nursing Executive for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health Susan Reeves ’88 said. As former dean of Colby-Sawyer’s School of Nursing and Health Professions, Reeves worked tirelessly to build the partnership between the college and hospital into its current form.

Those nurses also go on to become integral staff members. To date, eight Colby-Sawyer nurses have won D-H’s Areté Award for Nursing Excellence. Three Colby-Sawyer nurses at D-H have also received the international DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses.

For the student nurses, the opportunity to shadow alumni during their clinicals is yet another perk. Spainhower, one of the students who witnessed a birth in the fall, worked with Naomi Humphrey ’17 while on her obstetrics rotation.

Colby-Sawyer nursing students at DHMC

“You instantly have a connection with Colby-Sawyer nurses,” Spainhower said. “They know what you’re going through, and they can give you advice specific to our program.”

“I know firsthand just how much physical and emotional effort Colby-Sawyer nursing students put in to meet the high expectations of the program,” Humphrey said, “so it’s really important to me to encourage students and share advice. At the very least, it feels really good to be able to tell them I’m working my dream job, and that it was so worth the schooling.”

Because of the partnership, Colby-Sawyer students get priority placement for their practicums, the type of benefit that pays dividends long after students graduate. Humphrey was able to secure a job right after graduation on the birthing pavilion, which usually doesn’t hire recent graduates, but her externship and senior practicum on the floor gave her an advantage.

Chris Charles ’19 of North Haverhill, N.H., also hopes to find employment on the unit where he did his externship and senior preceptorship and discovered his professional passion: medical ICU.

“Colby-Sawyer’s close relationship with D-H makes it so much easier to transition from nursing student to professional nurse,” he said. “It allows us to get to know managers and supervisors on the floor, which enables us to make connections that can line up with future employment.”