Editor’s Note: This is the last installment in a three-part series.

In 1968, one year after the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Department of Nursing was established, Arkansas had 142 registered nurses per 100,000 people, the lowest ratio in the United States. Since 1968, the number of registered nurses in Arkansas per 100,000 has improved dramatically.

A recent 2011 report, generated from information provided by the 2010 U.S. Census and by Kaiser State Health Facts, showed that Arkansas has more than 5 ½ times as many registered nurses as it had in 1968, with 802 registered nurses per 100,000 people. Arkansas ranked 37th out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia with the District of Columbia having the most registered nurses at 1,728 nurses per 100,000 people.

Arkansas has more registered nurses per 100,000 people than 14 other states, including the larger states of Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Texas, Arizona and California. Nevada has the fewest number of registered nurses with 605 per 100,000 people.

The UCA Department of Nursing has had a major impact on improving the ratio of registered nurses in the state to the general population. Each year 70 unlicensed students enter the B.S.N. program and an additional 20 to 25 licensed students (licensed practical nurses and non-degreed registered nurses) enter the B.S.N. program.

According to Dr. Barbara Williams, chair of the UCA Department of Nursing, "For the last five years, 2007-2011, UCA produced 11.8% of the newly licensed baccalaureate degree RNs in the state. We do not strive to be the biggest. It is very tough, if not impossible to maintain quality and expand enrollment based on demand. Our goal is to preserve quality while admitting as many students as possible."

The faculty of the UCA Department of Nursing has also grown significantly since the department was first established. In 1967, there was a chair person and six faculty members. Today, there is a chair person, Dr. Barbara Williams, and 20 full-time faculty members with 41% holding doctoral degrees.

On the average there are 350 to 375 pre-nursing students taking pre-requisite courses in order to apply to the program. At any one time there are approximately 230 students that have been accepted and are taking courses in the B.S.N. program. The five year average graduation rate for students in UCA’s B.S.N. program is 89.5%. Within one year of graduation, 100% of UCA nursing graduates (both B.S.N. and M.S.N.) are gainfully employed in their fields.

Research has shown that students who enter the nursing profession do so for a variety of reasons. Each student has a specific goal he or she wants to accomplish through the nursing profession and each student has a preferred area of interest. However, there is one attribute that is fairly constant with those who are preparing and have prepared for a life’s vocation in nursing: compassion. Those whom I’ve formally interviewed and others with whom I have had discussions exude a genuine desire to provide the best healthcare they can to others. Several of those interviewed had seen a nurse providing care to a sick relative and were impressed by the compassion and care that the nurse had shown to their family member.

Another commonality of the interviewees was their respect for the UCA Department of Nursing. During interviews with current students as well as former students, I was told time and again how challenging the program was and how well it prepared them for the real world of nursing. All interviewees strongly agreed that the UCA nursing faculty was very supportive and wanted students to succeed.

Chelsea Vaughn, a senior nursing major from Russellville, Arkansas, will complete the requirements for the B.S.N. in Nursing and graduate from UCA in May 2013. Asked why she wanted to be a nurse Ms. Vaughn stated, "My grandparents were always really sick when I was growing up and so I was in and out of the hospitals with them all the time. Seeing that and seeing the care the nurses gave them is what made me want to become a nurse. Now, being in the profession I see that even more and I just want to care for people."

When asked to discuss her experience in the UCA nursing program, Ms. Vaughn stated, "It is very challenging just to get used to the curriculum and the work load. But now that I’ve been in it for two whole years and starting my third, I’m not saying it’s easier, but I enjoy it. The things that you are learning are the things that you are interested in." Ms. Vaughan said that during the clinical portion of her training she has been assigned to train with registered nurses employed at various hospitals including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Baptist Health Medical Center, Saint Vincent Infirmary Medical Center and Conway Regional Medical Center.

A colleague of Ms. Vaughn’s, Alicia Jackson from Conway, is also a senior nursing major at UCA. When asked why she chose to major in nursing, Ms. Jackson stated, "I am a non-traditional student, 35 years old, and a mother of two. This is a second career for me. I was working in the insurance industry, and it was a good job; but after doing that for about seven years it was just paying the bills. I was not yet 30 years old at the time and started thinking that I could do more. As a mom there were a couple of times that nurses really made a difference, for better and for worse, and that got the wheels turning. Nursing pays the bills and it really matters, it matters every day." Ms. Jackson said it takes a certain type of person to be a nurse. She stated that she participated in clinical training at Conway Regional Medical Center, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Veterans Administration and Saint Vincent Infirmary Medical Center.

A May 2012 graduate of the UCA B.S.N. program, Julie Earney, is employed by the Central Arkansas Veterans Health System in Little Rock. She works in the medical intensive care unit and the coronary care unit. Julie, a native of Conway, did her prerequisite work at the University of Arkansas but transferred to UCA to attend nursing school.

When asked why she wanted to become a nurse, Ms. Earney stated, "The reason why nursing originally sparked my interest was knowing I could use knowledge and positively impact someone’s health. So, I thought the more I could learn about a disease process the more I could learn about the pathology of the disease the more I could help someone. I wanted to help people and knew that nursing would be an effective means of helping someone and that would be rewarding."

When asked if the field of nursing had met her expectations and was what she thought it would be, Ms. Earney stated, "I thought it would be knowledge oriented, which it is, but, a lot of it has to do with showing respect and compassion for the patient. Book knowledge will only get you so far, you have to actually have the emotional capacity and the drive to care for the patient." Ms. Earney specifically wanted to work for the Veterans Administration so she could work with veterans and an older patient population. She received her registered nurse license at the end of June 2012 and was hired by the Veterans Administration in July 2012.

Many nurses who hold the B.S.N. degree go on to further their education and receive the Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N). The M.S.N. program admits 55 new students each year and has an average total enrollment of 175 students. The five-year graduation rate is 84.8% and the certification rate is 98% over a five-year period.

Michelle Swope, a 2009 graduate of UCA’s B.S.N. program is currently enrolled in UCA’s M.S.N. program with an anticipated graduation date of December 2012. Ms. Swope works as a registered nurse at Arkansas Otolaryngology Center in Little Rock while also pursuing the M.S.N. degree at UCA.

Ms. Swope said she was attracted to the nursing profession because it is part of a family tradition. She stated, "My grandmothers on both sides were nurses, my mother is a nurse, two of my aunts are nurses and one uncle is a nurse. And, so it’s kind of always been part of who I am as a person. I grew up watching my mom care for neighbor kids and everybody who was sick called my mom. I just really saw what impact a nurse can have on a person."

Asked why she wanted to earn the M.S.N. degree and work as an advance nurse practitioner, Ms. Swope stated, "I knew that working as an advance practice nurse I would have more independence as a care giver. I think I could help a lot more people and I really believe it is a better career opportunity for nurses to become an M.S.N. nurse." Asked what she intended to do once she received her M.S.N. degree, she stated, "I would love to work in a clinic in rural Arkansas, I would love to do family practice. You get to see newborns to the elderly so you get a wide range of people. I think that’s where I really want to be."

Another student pursuing the M.S.N. degree is John Green who graduated from UCA with a B.S.N. in May 2012. Mr. Green is currently employed at Saint Vincent Morrilton in Morrilton, Arkansas and works in the intensive care unit. He said he received his job offer from Saint Vincent Morrilton just a few days after receiving his degree.

Mr. Green served in the United States Navy for 20 years as a criminal investigator and retired with the rank of chief petty officer. He said that position was somewhat similar to the discipline of nursing and that he was a service oriented type of person. Mr. Green stated, "In criminal investigation you gather evidence, come to a conclusion and present your results. In nursing you do the exact same thing. You gather your evidence in the way of labs, assessment values, vital signs, health history and come to a conclusion. You then present that information to a doctor, generally speaking, so that he can guide his service to that patient."

In explaining why he wanted to earn an M.S.N. degree and become an advance practice nurse, Mr. Green stated, "I loved nursing and to take nursing to a higher level I wanted to care for my own community. Being a nurse practitioner would get me into that role of finding a small community and caring for them." Mr. Green said he was attracted to north central Arkansas and would like to work in that area of the state. But, he said he would enjoy working in any small community that had a need for health services. Nursing remains a female-dominated field and men make up approximately six percent of all registered nurses in the United States. However, Mr. Green said his colleagues have made him feel welcome in the nursing profession.

Nancy Svehla, who graduated from UCA in December 2011 with an M.S.N. degree, is now working as manager of the Fairlamb Senior Health Clinic in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Ms. Svehla is a family nurse practitioner and is professionally recognized as an advance practice nurse.

When asked why she entered the M.S.N. program at UCA, Ms. Svehla stated, "It has been a lifelong desire of mine to be a nurse practitioner. When I was a young girl I worked as a candy striper and the more I learned the more I wanted to learn. I have always been drawn to giving care to people." Ms. Svehla said her job is a challenge and she was put in charge of creating a new clinic from the ground up. She supervises a psychometrist, a receptionist, a dietician and a case manager. She also works with two neuropsychologists from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to offer memory disorder testing at the Mountain Home facility.

Asked why she chose UCA, Ms. Svehla stated, "I had researched several schools in our state and felt that UCA had one of the best programs available, and I still believe that today. I highly recommend UCA to anyone thinking of going into the nursing field."

Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, Log Cabin Democrat, Dr. Barbara Williams, Chelsea Vaughn, Alicia Jackson, Julie Earney, Michelle Swope, John Green, Nancy Svehla and M12-02 – UCA Department of Nursing Collection, UCA Archives.