Fred Hilliker became a student in the Decker School of Nursing after several years working in residence life at schools such as Hartwick College, the University at Albany, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
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A decade ago, Fred Hilliker was ensuring the well-being of hundreds of college students.
In a month, Hilliker will ensure the well-being of patients at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa.
“People who know me aren’t often surprised by anything I do,” Hilliker says. “They know that I like caring for people and helping people. I’m just doing it in a different way now.”
Hilliker, a 35-year-old from Waverly, will receive his bachelor’s in nursing as part of the Decker School of Nursing’s Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) Program for college graduates from fields other than nursing.
The journey to Decker’s BAT program began in 2001, when Hilliker was pursuing his master’s degree in education/counseling at SUNY Oneonta. In need of a place to live for the upcoming semester, Hilliker was urged by a professor to consider becoming a resident director.
“I just laughed and said ‘Sure I should!’” Hilliker recalls. He eventually applied for a position at Hartwick College and was hired.
“I needed a place to stay – that was my sole motivation,” he says. “But I got the job and absolutely fell in love with it. I stayed there for two years and finished my master’s.”
In August 2003, Hilliker returned to SUNY Albany, where he had received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1999, to work as a resident director. After a year at Albany, Hilliker heard that another school in the Albany area – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) – was looking for an assistant director of residence life. At RPI, Hilliker oversaw a staff of 35 and worked with 700 freshmen.
Hilliker later became assistant dean of residence life at the school – but things had changed by 2009.
“I loved it, but I ended up working more with vice presidents and deans than with my students,” he says. “So I was on the fence about what I really wanted to do.”
Hilliker’s wife Shannon received an offer to teach at Binghamton University, so the couple returned to Waverly. Hilliker was working as a substitute teacher when he discovered Decker’s BAT program.
“Counseling and nursing aren’t too terribly different,” he says. “It seemed like a good fit for my skill set.”
Hilliker started in May 2012 and was immediately impressed with his classmates.
“I love the people in the program,” he says. “There’s a great deal of diversity in terms of backgrounds and ages. We have people who are fresh out of undergrad. There are people who have had extensive careers before this. We have people who haven’t gone to college since the 1980s. It is an interesting group of people. We all have different struggles going on, but there is a camaraderie that emerges.”
Besides taking classes, Hilliker took part in clinical rotations that included working at Waverly High School for community health. He praised the Decker faculty members for always being able to showcase different areas that a nursing degree can be used in.
“There are extraordinary faculty who go above and beyond in terms of availability and accessibility,” he says. “They make sure that you understand the content.”
Alison Dura, a clinical lecturer in Decker, said Hilliker is a “warm, confident, and caring person with a razor sharp wit who keeps his peers and faculty in stitches.
“Throughout the year he’s demonstrated a real thirst for understanding − and not just for knowledge and facts,” Dura says. “Since last May, it’s been a real treat to watch him fully take on the nursing role, and incorporate his principles and personality into the process. One year later, I see an insightful, perceptive and very smart nurse who’s sure to provide leadership wherever he goes.”
Hilliker will begin working in June at Robert Packer Hospital’s multi-systems trauma floor. He hopes to return to Binghamton University after a year for the nurse practitioner program and eventually could get into teaching.
“I’ve got to cut my teeth on some real-world experience first,” he says. “I want to go out first and do nursing, rather than learn nursing. But I’ll be back.”
A year in the BAT program has left Hilliker with a great respect for the amount of knowledge that nurses must have.
“I’ve had a year of knowledge crammed into my head and I think I’m a rank novice in terms of what I need to know,” he says. “There is a great deal of technical know-how and responsibility that nurses have. The knowledge of the drugs, the anatomy, the biophysics – it’s impressive what’s out there to learn. What can you learn in a year that isn’t just a brief overview? There is so much more to learn – and that is exciting to me.”