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Hands-On Spiritual Practicum

Compassionate outreaches abroad raise stature of Northwest University College of Nursing.

KIRKLAND, Washington — Erin-Joy Bjorge took a break from teaching at Seattle Pacific University in 1999 to help her mentor Annalee Oakes write the curriculum and set up labs for the nascent nursing program at Northwest University, the Assemblies of God school here in suburban Seattle. Bjorge didn’t want to stay long; she hoped to return to SPU, where she had obtained both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing.

But as she walked down a hallway soon after that first semester started, an employee in the print services department stopped Bjorge to engage in talk about the new nursing program. As they wound up the conversation, the employee asked if she could pray for Bjorge. The encounter changed Bjorge’s mind.

“God confirmed that my time at NU was not temporary, but this is where I was called to serve,” Bjorge says.

She not only stayed, but since 2019 Bjorge has been dean of Northwest University’s Mark and Huldah Buntain College of Nursing.

Her experience mirrors what the school tries to do for students in the program.

“The number one reason people come here is for the purposeful integration of faith,” says Bjorge, 58. “That is who we are.”

The education includes a three-week cross-cultural experience, where nursing students go somewhere in the world and are able to participate in hands-on care with diverse patients. Graduates become nurses working in such fields as pediatrics, obstetrics, intensive care units, critical care, mental health settings in hospitals, clinics, and schools.

“Faith-based cross-cultural experiences draw a certain type of student,” says Bjorge, who holds a doctor of nursing practice degree. “It creates a niche.”

Northwest University President Joseph L. Castleberry says it’s the perfect approach for American urban hospitals, where nurses likely will encounter patients from around the world.

“We train every nurse as though he or she were going to be a missionary nurse,” says Castleberry, 62. “We’re preparing them for the mission field.”

The school has a good reputation for developing nurses who offer compassionate care. Nursing students gain credible training before interning at hospitals for hands-on practical skills. High-fidelity full-body patient simulators who move, talk, perspire, and bleed. The current nursing class is the most diverse ever, with ethnic minorities representing 19 of 48 students.

The cross-cultural experience abroad with clinical practice and transcultural education is a key component as to why Northwest University School of Nursing graduates are in demand. In addition to her dean duties, Bjorge teaches a couple of courses, including one on integrating faith with a career.

“We teach what it looks like being a Christian nurse, being comfortable talking to patients about spiritual matters,” Bjorge says. Besides its traditional program, the school offers a pair of online programs, bachelor of science for registered nurses and a master of science in nursing degree.

Bjorge and her husband, Svein, are passionate about missions, the persecuted church, and ethnic minorities. On a short-term trip to Cuba, Svein, a small business owner who attended seminary in Norway, occupied his time with ministry while Erin-Joy participated in health-care outreaches. The couple helped start a Congolese Pentecostal congregation, New Covenant in Bellevue.

Before enrolling, Jessica Olsen visited several college nursing schools, but soon after setting foot on the Northwest University campus she decided to stay.

“I could tell that campus environment was different than the others,” says Olsen, who graduated in 2016. “The program creates nurses who are equipped with knowledge, but also are spiritually focused to go out into the world.”

Olsen says her instructors adroitly passed on training and experience to students.

“The faculty have the skills and knowledge that are needed scientifically, but they also model what it looks like to be an excellent nurse,” Olsen says. “They reflect Jesus in their daily work.”

For her overseas experience, Olsen shadowed nurses for a month in a hospital in Taipei City, Taiwan. She had the opportunity to work in the emergency room, cardiac unit, psych ward, intensive care until, and labor and delivery.

For her senior practicum, Olsen worked in the cardiac ICU at Seattle Children’s Hospital. After graduating, the hospital hired her full time, and she provides care to critically ill children with heart issues.

Brittany Gross graduated in August with a master’s degree in nursing, after earning her bachelor’s at the school in 2013. Gross, a registered nurse, now manages the ambulatory surgery center for Harman Eye Clinic in Arlington, Washington.

As a volunteer after hours, Gross is helping to manage Safe Harbor Free Clinic at the second location opened in Smokey Point last year. The clinic provides free medical care to uninsured and underinsured area residents.

Gross says her nursing approach relies on the Christian compassion tenets taught by wonderful mentors at Northwest University.

“We learned to provide holistic care to meet spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs,” says Gross, 33. “There are times when patients are so nervous that the only thing to do is to help by bringing God to them. I wouldn’t have learned that at a traditional school.”

TOP PHOTO: Erin-Joy Bjorge confers with a nurse on a trip to Cuba.

LOWER PHOTO #1: Jessica Olsen (left) gained practical experience while visiting Taiwan.

LOWER PHOTO #2: Brittany Gross (left) now is an eye clinic nurse manger.


John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.