Commitment to Lifelong Learning Fuels Career Growth for Nursing Alum Theresa Fordyce

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Combine her impressive skill set, solid work ethic and commitment to career development, and it's no wonder that MCCC Nursing alumna Theresa Fordyce has risen to the supervisory level at Princeton House Behavioral Health, a unit of Princeton HealthCare System. Guided by a holistic managerial philosophy, she is intent on fostering a work environment where employees are respected for their individual contributions, but understand that teamwork is essential to patient care.

"As a manager, I have to do certain things, but I don't see myself as better than my employees," Fordyce says. "I strive for cohesiveness. You have to have consistency for good patient care."

Terry Fordyce

Fordyce herself has been a model of consistency, earning her MCCC Nursing degree in 1986 and twice adding to her expertise through Mercer's Center for Continuing Studies. When she began studying at Mercer in the 1980s, Fordyce had already earned a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Belmont Abby College (NC). After attending an open house at MCCC with friends, she scrapped her original plan to continue on to grad school and instead decided to focus on psychiatric nursing.

She recalls that her nursing education was very well-rounded. "You name it, we did it," she says. "Classes were tough, but the professors were supportive. You could go to them even if they weren't your teacher for that class." Fordyce notes that students formed close bonds. "We tormented each other; we pushed each other. We were a pretty close bunch."

Fordyce stood out as a leader in the Nursing program, serving as president of the New Jersey Student Nurses Association. She was also as an active member of the National Student Nurses Association.
After graduating from Mercer, Fordyce worked at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. It was there that she learned the value of everyone's contributions - especially the nursing assistants with whom she worked side by side. Next relocating to South Carolina, Fordyce worked in several facilities, but returned to Central New Jersey in the mid-1990s to help care for her ailing grandmother. She began working at Princeton House in 2002, first as a staff nurse and then as the 11-7 supervisor.

With responsibility for as many as 17 employees per shift and 40 employees overall, Fordyce decided she wanted to supplement her limited managerial experience. "I wanted more than I could get out of a book," she said.

In 2005, she enrolled in the American Management Association certificate program offered through MCCC's Center for Continuing Studies. Led by an instructor with extensive management experience, the courses covered topics such as conflict resolution, human resources, and delegating, and emphasized peer interaction by asking "what would you do?" in a variety of scenarios.

"We were all from different industries. Everyone contributed to the discussion," Fordyce said. "I would take ideas back to my work setting and then discuss in the next class what worked and what didn't. It was very useful."

Counting increasing numbers of older adults among her patients, in 2008 Fordyce again returned to MCCC, this time to earn her Gerontology Certificate. "I got tired of hearing staff members say 'because they're old.' I wanted to find out what was and wasn't normal behavior in the elderly. Cognitive loss is not normal," she stresses. "It can be a side effect of medication or the result of an infection."

The MCCC Gerontology Program approaches elder care holistically - covering topics from housing to Medicare to grief and loss. According to Fordyce, people are in the class for different reasons. "Some want to change or add to their careers, while others are dealing with elderly family members," she explains. She is now working on her final capstone project, an elder care brochure to be distributed to staff and families at Princeton House.

Since last spring, Fordyce has been pursuing yet another career development goal. With encouragement from MCCC Health Professions Dean Linda Martin, who taught one of the Gerontology courses, Fordyce enrolled in a master's degree program in Nursing, "so that I might teach one day." As an adult student, she finds learning especially rewarding. "I can apply what I learn in my job," she says, noting that she shares relevant articles and research with her co-workers.

With her demanding work and academic schedules, Fordyce must be disciplined and adhere to strict deadlines. But she believes her dedication is worth the sacrifice. "When a patient says, 'You saved my life,' those folks make your day."

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