In Good Hands

September 2, 2008

Next fall, Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing will celebrate 100 years of educating women and men to become nurses, nurse educators, researchers and leaders in their field, both at home and abroad.

The undergraduate and graduate programs are built on a strong Christian foundation that gives the nurses high ethical and moral standards to follow. Baylor-educated nurses are known industry-wide to be academically, spiritually and personally prepared for their careers. 

And the numbers reflect that. Last year, Baylor graduates had a 96 percent licensure exam pass rate (compared to the national average of 84 percent) and a 100 percent certification rate. Every graduate in the past three years who sought employment had at least one job offer upon graduation. 

Everyone agrees that it is the people--students, instructors, staff, alumni and friends--who make Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing a very special place.

The Sim-Family: how test dummies make for smart students

Nurses have run every test in the book on the man in the hospital bed. Thankfully, he doesn't suffer from incredibly bad health, or even just bad luck. It's a typical day in the "life" of one of the high-fidelity patient simulators at Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing.

The school recently purchased six simulator manikins, which provide ways for nursing students to face clinical challenges and test their decision-making skills before being put into real-life situations. The simulators have realistic anatomy and include software that allows their functions (such as pulse and breathing) to be controlled and changed by instructors. 

The Sim-Family begins with two adults, each currently called "Sim-Man," although either can be changed to "Sim-Woman" by switching out parts. A baby, named "John Houser" by donors John and Marie Chiles, simulates problems that might be found in an eight-month-old child. A newborn infant, "Sim-NewB," will simulate the first 15 minutes of life and is so lifelike that she even comes with an umbilical cord that can be assessed, cut and catheterized. Two additional manikins, Noelle and Baby Hal, were purchased with a gift from Harris and Anne Clark to simulate a variety of other birth scenarios and delivery methods. 

The lead gift for the simulators came from Ruth, BA '49, and Don Buchholz. Ruth Buchholz serves on the Louise Herrington School of Nursing Dean's Board; she says she hopes that the simulators "will help give students the opportunity for learning skills that they will need when they graduate."

The adult manikins in the Don A. and Ruth Buchholz Simulation Lab are in regulation hospital beds (donated by Baylor University Medical Center) in fully furnished rooms. In addition to the standard bed and monitors found in any hospital room, the rooms are also equipped with cameras so instructors in another room can watch students as various scenarios play out. Instructors can also "talk" for the manikins by speaking through a microphone. Every interaction is recorded so that students and instructors can review the scenarios.

Lecturer Amy Souders, MSN, coordinates the lab and writes many of the scenarios that students work through (mostly taken from her own nursing experience). She says that students very quickly get used to working with the manikins. 

"There's a lot of giggling when they first walk into the room. But once the patient starts getting really sick, the students get very serious," Souders says. "The scenarios we write are realistic things that they will see in the hospital. We create controlled chaos with very stressful, serious, life-threatening situations. And suddenly, the simulator is not so fake anymore. Debriefings are often emotional because students recognize how their actions could have affected a real patient."

But despite the stress, every student who's been through the simulation lab has wanted to go back and do it again.

"My first really sick patient was real," Souders remembers, "and it was a really, really scary situation. Here, students can get a taste of what it's like, and most important, can go back and examine what happened and figure out why they made the choices they did."

Students at the nursing school were first given the opportunity to work with the simulators last year.

"We started with just the seniors who were in their last semester, and from the feedback we got from the students, we're now going to introduce them much sooner. They all say they wished they'd have been able to work on them all along."

Working with the simulators will not replace any time student nurses would normally be working in actual clinical settings, but instead enhances and prepares them for that time.

"Nothing replaces hospital time," Souders says. "That time with real people is critical. Our students have to be able to function in reality, and that's what the hospital provides. The sim lab gets them ready. They come to school to be nurses. Here, that's what they get to be."

Steven Deville: a second chance to serve

Growing up in a small town in rural Louisiana, Steven Deville felt he had limited career choices after graduating from high school. The way he saw it, he could work on his grandfather's chicken farm or go to work in the oil fields. He chose to go to college and earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting.

"I was working in an oil field on drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and southwest Louisiana," Deville says. "I had a good thing going. I loved the work and was on a fast track to progress to management, but then my wife and I decided to start a family."

One spring, during particularly foggy weather, Deville got stuck out on a rig, unable to reach his pregnant wife.

"It got me thinking that if something happened to my wife or child and I couldn't get home, I don't know what I would do," Deville says.

As soon as he got in, he enrolled in nursing school.

"A lot of people in my life are in the medical field," he explains. "It's something I always wanted to do; I've just taken side roads. When I went to college the first time, as an 18-year-old boy, the timing wasn't right."

But once he enrolled in nursing school, Deville knew he'd made the right choice. After working in a hospital for a few years, he began to research options for continuing his education. When he decided to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner, he visited Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing. The school offers graduate degrees as a Family Nurse Practitioner or a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.

"We have some older students that this is their second degree," says Janis Kovar, LHSON director of development. "Judy [Lott, dean of the nursing school] says they just bring life into the classroom. They've been there, they've done that, they've already experienced what the 20 year olds are just learning. ... It's a nice blend, because the older learn from the younger, and the younger can learn from the older."

"I looked at a lot of schools, and most of them are basically businesses; they're there to make money," Deville says. "But at Baylor you don't get that feel. Their mission is to train nurses, and train them well. I know schools have to make money to keep their doors open. But here you don't get the feeling that it's a business first."

Deville was accepted into the Nurse Practitioner Program and began classes in January. Baylor's Family Nurse Practitioner track prepares registered nurses to become primary care providers to clients of all ages in community-based settings. Many nurse practitioners go on to care for traditionally underserved populations in a variety of cultures. 

Deville is finding the curriculum to be a challenge, but extremely rewarding at the same time.

"Nursing school is tough, and it can become your whole life, but the instructors here truly want to help you and see you succeed," he says. "On my first day of class, the instructor gave us her cell phone number. I couldn't believe it. She must do that with all her classes. I couldn't imagine giving 50 or 100 people my cell phone number every semester. But that's how it is here. The instructors really care. It's very impressive."

After completing his master's degree, Deville plans to go back to his hometown in rural Louisiana to serve the community as a nurse practitioner. 

"I just want to be a husband and father, and then do the best I can to help people," he says. "Baylor is the best place for me to learn to do that. I am in awe that I was chosen to be here."

Kelley McDonald: the future looks bright

Though she has yet to graduate from college, having just finished her first semester at Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, Kelley McDonald has already begun her career, having spent the summer working as a patient technician at Baylor University Medical Center's emergency room. Even better, she's found something most people can only dream of.

"I love my job," she says emphatically. "I absolutely can't wait to get back to work every day. I know I've made the right choice."

Like most students at the nursing school, McDonald spent her first two years on Baylor's Waco campus, taking a variety of liberal arts classes as well as natural and behavioral science pre-nursing courses. She then moved to the nursing school's Dallas campus, which is adjacent to Baylor University Medical Center, to complete her upper-division, professional coursework. 

When McDonald left the Waco campus for Dallas, she did so with mixed emotions.

"I was still around friends from my [pre-nursing] classes, so we were doing this as a group," she says. "But I still miss walking across Baylor's campus and seeing other friends."

McDonald says the nursing school staff helps students stay connected to friends in Waco by reserving tickets for events like football games and All University Sing, then chartering buses from Dallas. 

The school also works in many other ways to keep students connected, McDonald says. And one of the most visible ways is through Director of Student Ministries David Kemerling. 

"Mr. Kemerling is the most amazing man," McDonald says. "He keeps us connected spiritually and emotionally. He reminds us that we need to take time from classes and studying and working, so we can reconnect."

Kemerling plans weekly lunch encounters where he arranges for churches to bring in home-cooked meals, or for restaurants to donate a meal, and the lunch is centered on a speaker or activity, along with worship and fellowship time. Kemerling also hosts Bible studies and is available to students who want to have serious discussions or brief chats. He even sends e-mails to check up on them over the summers and holiday breaks.

"He is one of the backbones of what keeps the school and the students going," says McDonald. "He loves Baylor, loves the school of nursing and loves us."

Students in Dallas have the option of living in a dormitory setting at Baylor University Medical Center. The building is managed by the hospital and is connected to the school via a skyway, providing students with an affordable place to live and easy access to campus facilities.

This fall, students at the Dallas campus will be able to take advantage of the school's new Barnabas Success Center, thanks to the help of Anita Jones, BA '61. The center will offer students many of the same services available at the Waco campus' Paul L. Foster Success Center, including tutoring, academic counseling, mentoring, study strategies instruction and supplemental instruction. For students like McDonald, who admits that she really didn't know how to study when she started college, such assistance can only help.

"Everyone has their own personal style of learning, and everyone should be able to find out what that is," she says. She had friends who used the Success Center in Waco, and is excited about having similar services in Dallas.

"Nursing school is tough. People told me that, but nothing can really prepare you," McDonald says. "But the faculty and staff here want us to succeed. They have that caring touch and attitude. Of course they do: after all, they are nurses."

Allyson Smith: exciting opportunity on the mission field

Serving God through missions work is nothing new for Allyson Smith, BS '96, MS '08. She came to Baylor as an undergraduate knowing that she wanted to go into nursing. In the 10 years following graduation, Smith worked as a labor and delivery nurse and went on several mission trips with her church. She and her husband, Shane, even adopted a child from Zambia three years ago. 

But it wasn't until Smith read a story in which Baylor alum Rose Nanyonga, MS '05, described her call to medical missions that she was ready to make a life-changing decision. Smith enrolled at Baylor again, this time as a graduate student. She graduated in May as a family nurse practitioner with a master of science in nursing.

"I always knew Baylor had this program," Smith says. "Then I read that article and thought, 'I need to do this.' "

In October, Smith and her family, husband Shane, BBA '92, daughters Hannah (age 10) and Mia (age 7), and son Moses (age 3), will move to Zambia, where they have agreed to live and serve for at least two years.

"I tell people it's like jumping off a cliff. You just hold your breath, close your eyes and jump," she says. "It's a little scary, but when I really sit back and think about it, I'm really pumped!"

While in Zambia, Smith is excited to put her degree to use working at a local clinic. She will see patients with a variety of ailments, including doing pediatric HIV work. She also hopes to work to some degree with pregnant women. There will be mobile clinics that will take her into the bush, and she knows she will see malaria, anthrax and tuberculosis.

But she says she feels very prepared. During her graduate studies at Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, Smith not only did class coursework in missions, but also spent three weeks in Ethiopia working on a medical mission trip.

"We got to see it all as far as tropical medicine goes," she says. "I was able to be there, to see things like malaria and be able to diagnose it. We saw things, like different strains of diseases, in the field that we aren't able to see here in the U.S. I am excited to put my new skills to work in Zambia."

Missions are an important part of the nursing school's curriculum. Each student has an opportunity to explore missions and how it can fit into their careers. Within each program, a missions class is required. Students volunteer and serve in missions ranging from local outreach health fairs or the local Agape Clinic in East Dallas, to international mission trips, including an annual trip to Mexico during Christmas break. 

"As a Baylor graduate, I felt like I always had an edge as a nurse," Smith says. "I felt comfortable talking about spiritual things. If I had a patient who I felt needed to be prayed with, I was okay offering that. It's because I was trained to think that way. I know I can continue that in Zambia, and I love that."

Judy Lott: training the next generation

In her more than 25 years in nursing, Dr. Judy Wright Lott has seen the profession grow and change in countless ways. She's seen nursing shortages and improvements in technology change the way nurses work. And as the dean of Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, she has seen how the same things have changed the way nurses learn.

"The nursing shortage we face now is unprecedented," Lott says. "It's not like the temporary increased demand of the '70s. There simply aren't enough nurses to provide health care. And nursing is the backbone of health care in this country."

Some estimates predict that the shortage of registered nurses in the U.S. could reach as high as 500,000 in less than 20 years. To complicate matters, it is estimated that 55 percent of nurses are planning to retire between 2011 and 2020.

"This shortage is so devastating," Lott says. "The aging of the baby boomers is creating a need for more medical care. And so many of our nurses are baby boomers themselves and are thinking of retiring. That's why it's so important to recruit and train young nurses."

Additionally, recruiting faculty to teach young nurses has become increasingly important. 

"We are so fortunate to have the faculty we have," says Lott, who came to Baylor in 2001. "They are skilled and caring, and they want to help train the next generation."

In addition to its undergraduate degree, Baylor offers a variety of graduate programs. The Family Nurse Practitioner program focuses on giving graduates the skills they need to deliver primary care in community-based settings. The Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program trains people to serve in a specialized area of neonatology. Nurses who already have masters or doctoral degrees but who are interested in acquiring nurse practitioner skills can earn a Post Masters Advanced Standing Certificate. The Advanced Standing Masters Degree option is designed for certified nurse practitioners who are interested in acquiring graduate degrees in nursing.

Baylor's newest program, a Nurse Midwifery Doctorate of Nursing Practice, was approved by the Board of Regents this spring and is currently being developed. Interest in the new program is already extremely high.

"We've already fielded a lot of calls about the new program, and we're very excited," says Lott. "This is a program that is really going to make a difference. Nationally, there is a significant demand for nurse midwives, and we will be the only program in the state of Texas."

The midwifery and neonatal programs hold special interest for Lott, who began her career in a high-risk nursery. She worked as a neonatal nurse practitioner for about 10 years and has done extensive research in the area of blood flow in neonates. Additionally, she has worked on several books about neonatal nursing and neonatal infections.

"It's wonderful for me to see that we are finding new ways of educating nurses in the care of newborns and in women's health," she says. "I'm proud of Baylor and the fine nurses we have trained and are training now."

Mary Stowe: from RN to VP and CNO

Thirty years after she first began at Children's Medical Center in Dallas as a newly graduated nurse, Mary Stowe moved into her current position as the hospital's chief nursing officer.

A 1976 graduate of Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, Stowe started at Children's as a staff nurse immediately after graduation. Over the years, her career took her to Houston, then back to Dallas, as she worked in a variety of positions. 

"I love my job," says Stowe. "When I was in school at Baylor, they would tell us, 'You've chosen this program because you want to be a leader,' and that's really what they prepared me to be."

Throughout her career, Stowe has had the opportunity to observe other Baylor-trained nurses exhibiting the same type of determination.

"Baylor nursing graduates seem to quickly gravitate toward leadership positions," Stowe says. "They seem to know when to ask questions, which is excellent, and they are never satisfied with the status quo. They are always looking for better ways to deliver patient care."

In her current role, Stowe now oversees a host of patient care services for nursing at Children's, including ambulatory services, clinical practice, research and professional development, critical care services, emergency services, respiratory care, specialty services, surgical services, inpatient services and trauma and transport services. She carries with her words of wisdom from her years at Baylor's nursing school.

"I do remember one of my instructors telling us that we had to learn boundaries when dealing with patients and their families," she recalls. "Becoming a friend to a patient or a parent can mean you're not objective enough to give them the best care. I've had to go back and replay that advice, not only for myself, but for the nurses I counsel."

But Stowe also recalls that Baylor taught her that boundaries can be stretched. 

"We were taught creative things, how to think outside the box," she says. "At Baylor you learn that you have to address the spiritual side for the physical side to heal."

Stowe is proud that her alma mater offers nurses a four-year bachelor's degree, as she believes nurses trained in that track are extremely well equipped to enter the workforce.

"Someone who has a bachelor's degree in nursing demonstrates a certain level of professionalism," she says. "They are able to quickly learn their new skill sets, and have excellent critical thinking skills. Baylor nurses definitely fit that model."

Louise Ornelas: broad support allows for strong growth

No story about the Louise Herrington School of Nursing would be complete without a mention of the many volunteers who help support the school, whether through financial gifts or by simply giving of their time.

"People give because they know they're going to make a difference, not only in this student right here, but in every life that nurse will touch in the hospital, in the nursing home, in the mission field, wherever they go," says Janis Kovar, director of development for the school. "The Lord has brought so many people to us who aren't even alums." 

One of those people is Louise Herrington Ornelas, co-founder of TCA Cable Inc. and a 1992 Baylor University Alumna Honoris Causa. Ornelas had always dreamed of becoming a nurse, though family responsibilities kept her from realizing that dream. In 1999, the nursing school was renamed the Louise Herrington School of Nursing after she gave a $13 million endowment gift to the school. She also continues to support the school's various needs.

"Mrs. Ornelas has been a blessing to the LHSON in many ways, not just financially," says Dr. Judy Lott, the school's dean. "Her financial gifts have allowed the school to grow and develop into one of the strongest nursing schools in Texas, but the financial gifts are really only a sign of her support. The fact that Mrs. Ornelas recognizes the importance of what we are trying to achieve is the true gift."

Plenty of other individuals and groups have volunteered their time and efforts, as well. Lott and Kovar each quickly rattle off a long list of supporters that includes the Baylor Health Care Center, the Dallas Baylor University Women's Council, the Parents League and countless individuals.

"I always feel like you don't give to somewhere unless your interest is there, your love is there, and you know there's a need," Kovar explains. "And when all of these different people come into our school and know what the needs are... We're just thankful for everything they do. It's just unbelievable how people have stepped up and helped us."