Nursing students protest at hospital

A group of former students of St. Joseph's Hospital's nursing program said at a demonstration yesterday that they were wrongfully booted from the school last year.

Sabrina Whitaker, 39, a former nursing student, said that she and 10 other students want their money back so they can complete their nursing degrees.

"Our dreams have been shattered, and that has to be repaired," she said outside the hospital on Girard Avenue near 17th Street.

Whitaker is spokeswoman for the Liberation of Students' Rights Group of Philadelphia, 11 students represented by attorney Vivienne Crawford who are threatening to sue St. Joseph's over the alleged wrongful dismissal.

School officials told the students that their dismissal was related to failing exam scores. The school, however, has failed to make grades available to them, Crawford said.

The 12-month program, which prepares students to take certification exams to become registered nurses, costs $22,000. Most of the dismissed students, Crawford said, took loans to attend.

After Crawford spoke, former students and their family members began chanting "No justice, no peace!" as they held signs with messages such as "St. Joseph's is deceiving the community."

The group also said that the nursing program at St. Joseph's, established in 2003 to train nurses for its underserved North Philadelphia community, was badly mismanaged, with unqualified instructors, broken equipment, insufficient facilities and alleged grade-changing.

"Compared to [nursing schools at] Jefferson, Widener and Drexel, this us unheard of," said Whitaker. "This was a disgrace from day one."

The group also alleged that Tammy Tillman, former dean of the school, had been fired on grounds of academic dishonesty.

Current dean Carole Baxter, however, said Tillman had retired.

Tillman could not be reached yesterday for comment, but Baxter said that since she became dean last July, she has been "working to make the program better."

Baxter said the school, which is not accredited, likely will become so in the fall, and added that all programs take at least a few years to become accredited. She said accreditation works retroactively for students who graduate pre-accreditation.

"I'd be more than happy to talk with them," Baxter said, adding that she was unaware of the protest.