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Preparing Quality,Caring Nurses

nursing students taking vital signs

Today’s nursing hopefuls will not find acceptance into The University of Texas at Tyler’s College of Nursing an easy task. Competition is fierce. Once accepted, they won’t find the coursework, examinations and clinical experiences a piece of cake either.

But what they will discover comes easy is their growing desire and ability to help others. And UT Tyler’s pool of committed nursing students wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I was deeply intrigued with the field of nursing and the vast opportunities and pathways available in the very diverse field,” said Dawn Johnson, a 1996 bachelor of science in nursing graduate. “I chose UT Tyler because I wanted a bachelor’s degree instead of an associate degree,” she said. “I was also aware of the respected reputation and credibility that the UT Tyler College of Nursing has.”

Tara Patton, a 2005 BSN graduate, said, “UT Tyler has a good reputation for graduating well-prepared nurses. I felt comfortable with the preparation I received.”

Dr. Pam Martin, associate dean for undergraduate programs, said the nursing program receives more than 500 applications every semester and can only admit about 150 because of space. “We have a soughtafter program, accredited by the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, with a pass rate of 98 percent for the licensure exam,” Dr. Martin said. “We have a very high quality program with a lot of rigor. It is hard to get in and it is a hard program. We accept motivated students and prepare quality nurses.”

Committed Faculty
Johnson, who currently serves as a registered nurse for Tyler Independent School District, said one of the strengths of the program for her was the faculty. “The faculty was very supportive and very willing to offer encouragement or the extra nudge to ‘get it together’ when we started to waiver,” she said.

Members of the teaching staff have many years of health care experience and many hold national certification in their discipline, Dr. Martin said. “We have a very dedicated and caring faculty. They are here for the students,” she said.

Patton said, “The staff made every effort to be accessible to students. That’s what makes it successful.” She works as a registered nurse for The University of Texas Medical Branch in Tennessee Colony. “When I decided in midlife to make a second career choice and pursue my goal, I really enjoyed a great deal of support from faculty.”

Johnson said the faculty not only provided an education in the practical skills for nursing, they ignited a passion to help others. “They taught us the value of being able to impact the lives of others through healing and caring,” she said. “They taught us that we would get much more from our patients than they would ever get from us. I am so grateful for that because they were right!”

The Element of Caring
The UT Tyler nursing family is serious about helping people. It is their calling. From traveling to the jungles of Guatemala to walking for cures and volunteering at clinics, to sending health supplies to Iraq, Dr. Martin said the nursing students are very active in their communities. “They really step up. They get involved,” Dr. Martin said. “We had 452 service hours logged in, and that’s while going to school. They are out there. Students learn that as a nurse, you are not just taking care of patients in the hospital, you represent nursing wherever you are.”

Every year faculty members take students to the Guatemalan village of San Raymundo to work with Refuge International volunteers at a remote health clinic. The organization was founded by UT Tyler instructor and former student Deborah Bell.

“The clinic is only open about four times a year when a medical team comes,” said Dr. Susan Yarbrough, associate dean for graduate programs. “The (villagers) learn about it mostly by word of mouth. Some travel or walk for hours to get there. From the time we begin each day, there is always a waiting line. They sit patiently all day for their turn.”

UT Tyler nursing student Ericka Fabian has been to Guatemala three times. She said, “I absolutely love it. It made me realize that nursing is what I am destined to do. It filled my heart with so much love, compassion and drive that I know without a doubt that nursing is for me. Helping the people of Guatemala and seeing the difference that I have made in their lives touches me in such a way that I can’t imagine not helping people here in the states on a daily basis.”

Emma Lamoc traveled to Guatemala with the group this year. She said, “It was a lifechanging experience and made me stronger as a nurse.” While Patton was working on her bachelor’s degree, hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. Patton and her fellow students worked in local shelters that housed families displaced by the storms. She also organized a nationwide toy drive that sent more than 600 pounds of toys to victims of the hurricanes.

“The hurricanes created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve people at the most vulnerable time in their life,” Patton said. “I think it’s important to make a difference where you are and in your local community. Nursing just doesn’t happen in a hospital facility or in a clinic. It is where there is a need.”

Real World Experience
Dr. Klotz said part of what makes UT Tyler nursing programs so successful is the real world experience. “If someone needs healthcare, our faculty and graduates are there,” she said.

After the second semester, students begin working one-on-one with a registered nurse mentor in area hospitals and clinics through the UT Tyler Preceptor Program. The Preceptor concept was created at UT Tyler about eight years ago and is used across the state and nation as a model, Dr. Martin said.

Students study in the classroom two days a week. The remainder of the time is spent in a clinic environment with a working nurse. Students set up their own schedules to match that of the mentors. “We have 500-600 active preceptors across East Texas that help us,” Dr. Martin said.

“Students work in doctor’s offices, in-home care, area schools, dialysis, immunization clinics, flu shot clinics,” Martin said. “They follow their nurse in shift work and get used to the real world very quickly. They learn that nurses work long, 12-hour shifts and it’s tiring. And they love it.”

Johnson said, “The clinical experiences we had helped to fuel our passion for the field of nursing. We were allowed to grow as humans and learn at the same time about helping others through skill, knowledge and compassion.”

Patton said mentorship by licensed nurses is a critical part of learning for students. “It is important to recognize what your role is prior to becoming a licensed nurse. In the nursing environment with patients and needs . . . that’s where the true learning happens.”

An Open Door of Opportunities
“We have graduates working everywhere – all over Texas, in other states and around the world,” Dr. Klotz said. “The nursing shortage is such that our graduates have no problems in finding positions anywhere, and have multiple work opportunities to choose from.”

Dr. Martin said the College of Nursing has a 60 percent rate of nursing students who go on to graduate school to become educators, nurse practitioners, administrators, certified registered nurses and more. “The baccalaureate degree is not a stopping off point,” she said.

UT Tyler is also one of the programs of choice for military admissions. She said about 20 to 25 students in the BSN program are active military. It is a very select group that returns to the military as nurses and officers. “Our military graduates are sent all over the world – to the front lines of the military, to tent hospitals, to Baghdad, Japan and Afghanistan.”

No matter what their next challenge, the nursing graduates of UT Tyler find one thing comes very easy to them: helping others.

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