Fifty-seven new nurses came into the world Friday, graduates of Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing's Ashland campus. And while they might be excited about graduating, they had another equally exciting prospect: 95 percent of them have lined up secure jobs with an average wage of $32 an hour.

OHSU held its graduation the day before Southern Oregon University's commencement on Saturday. The new nurses shared many honors and celebratory ribbons worn around their necks, and shared, too, many a story with classmates, tales that will soon become the stuff of nostalgia, as they depart for demanding jobs in many parts of Oregon and the world.

Student speaker Abby Sanchez noted, however, that the journey was not without its pitfalls.

“It wasn’t always easy and enjoyable and certainly not cheap,” she said.

Associate Professor Paula Gubrud-Howe said the OHSU Nursing Program is one of the most highly respected in the nation, with nurses scoring “very impressive” job placement, with starting salaries at well over $60,000 a year.

The job picture for grads is especially rosy now, as the country emerges from the crippling Great Recession, with recovery allowing the retirement of large numbers of older nurses, said Joanne Noone, associate dean of the Ashland OHSU campus. Health care reform has also resulted in an influx of new patients and the accompanying need for more health care workers of all types.

“It’s a very strong career choice right now,” Noone said, noting the average age of nurses in Oregon currently is 54.

Chosen by students to speak, Instructor Teri Copley — herself a nurse — said the three words she would use to describe the graduating class are “driven, determined and tenacious” — and she reminded them of their mission with a Patch Adams quote: “You treat the disease, you win, you lose. You treat the person, you always win.”

Graduate Asia Machnicka, the daughter of Polish immigrants, celebrated landing a job in the Intensive Care Unit of OHSU Portland the day before.

“It’s all unknown," Machnicka said. "You think you know what to expect but you don’t. There’s a huge need out there for nurses and this program absolutely produces amazing nurses.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.