Largest nursing class ever graduating this weekend from Schoolcraft, ready for frontlines

The healthcare industry has always been critical but the pandemic has highlighted just how much we need qualified caretakers. 

The nursing program at Schoolcraft College is about to graduate its largest class of nurses ever - and some of them are headed straight to the COVID-19 front lines. 

Take Randie Contreras, for example, She's a licensed practical nurse about to finish graduate school and will start at Beaumont Dearborn ER on May 11.

"To say that I'm not scared, I can't really say that. I am," she said. 

But she's ready - and part of the largest graduating class in Schoolcraft College nursing history - one of 168 nurses graduating amid a global pandemic.

"It's not what we ever pictured, you know, we pictured crossing the stage together this Saturday and pinning on Sunday and being in the hospital - but Schoolcraft has been above and beyond incredible," said Heather Grone. 

She's another nursing student, all of them about to graduate even with the program's sudden shift to online classes and telehealth instead of traditional clinical rotations.

"You cannot be a nurse without having hands-on experience," said Holly Austin, a professor of nursing at Schoolcraft. She says the switch was a major challenge for the professors and the students, who have been presented with COVID-19 scenarios now as well.

"And they stepped it up. Some of the assignments I received from my clinical group were outstanding," Austin said. 

"They were great. They were amazing in helping us through the rest of the program. They stayed with us the whole time and made sure everyone was on top of things," Contreras said. "I'm just grateful that we were all still able to graduate on time."

It won't be the graduation they had hoped for but they're grateful for the experience, the education and the opportunity.

Now Austin and so many other professors are just hoping they have the proper protection on the frontline to succeed.

"I know they're very well prepared. I'm excited for them but I'm also nervous; I just want them all to stay safe."