Arkansas Baptists are responding to our state’s critical nursing shortage through Ouachita’s new nursing program, which after three years, already enrolls 100 students.
Before the pandemic, a study forecasted Arkansas needing 15,000 more nurses, especially in rural areas. The demand is even greater now, given the strain COVID-19 has placed on our healthcare system.
So, there’s an urgent call for more nurses. And there’s a Christian rationale for responding. Jesus is our savior, and as a university, we’re reminded that he’s the master teacher. He’s also the great physician.
We understand the biblical stories that describe why people went to great lengths for physical healing. I remember when the doctor told me in 2006 that my mother, who had been healthy all her life, was diagnosed with stage four cancer and the prognosis was grim.
We need competent, compassionate and Christian healthcare workers. It’s why Ouachita for so long has prepared many for professional schools of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy, as well as the fields of speech pathology and dietetics.
But since 1886, except for one year in the 1960s, we haven’t had a nursing program. Until now.
It’s been harder to establish one than we anticipated, as there was no private, faith-based nursing program in all of south Arkansas. Why?
Because it’s hard to find nursing faculty with practical experience and advanced degrees, and to compete with hospitals when offering compensation.
Because it requires arrangements with healthcare facilities where students and faculty can have clinicals, or hands-on learning. In our part of the state, these facilities are fewer and farther apart.
Because it requires on-campus space with expensive state-of-the-art simulation labs (think mannequins that can mimic real health issues).
Because nursing programs are heavily regulated at the state and federal levels, and starting a new program is fraught with political obstacles.
But we persevered. Starting with a bold aspiration, built incrementally, we now offer three pathways to attain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
One pathway is an innovative, first-in-the-state dual-enrollment partnership with Baptist Health College Little Rock (BHCLR). Students attend Ouachita first for four semesters of pre-nursing courses, then move to Little Rock and dually enroll at BHCLR for three semesters, where they take the courses required to pass the state nursing exam. Their last semester is completed online through Ouachita. They graduate with an AASN degree from BHCLR and a BSN from Ouachita.
The second pathway is for working nurses who have an RN and want to earn a BSN by completing courses online from Ouachita. Increasingly, hospitals value the BSN degree, and it provides more opportunities for nurses.
The third pathway, initially approved by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing (ASBN) on January 6, 2022, offers a 4-year residential BSN program that is completed on campus. This is the preferred choice for traditional-age students who desire all that makes Ouachita, Ouachita. We will seek full approval of the program from the ASBN after the first cohort graduates, following the organization’s typical protocols.
In the process—with hard work, wonderful supporters and God’s grace—we overcame the barriers.
We now have four full-time faculty—three with doctoral degrees—who bring a total of 118 years of clinical and nursing education experience.
We have 15 clinical agreements with healthcare providers across the state. We’re finishing a state-of-the-art, $2.2 million Nursing Education Center with a clinical skills lab, five simulated hospital patient rooms, a pharmacy and several high-fidelity mannequins. We have a nursing program with approvals at the state, regional and national levels—all stamps of quality and excellence.
In May 2022, we’ll have the first graduates in Ouachita’s history to earn a BSN. And there will be many more to come.
We can’t meet the nursing shortage in our state completely, but we can and should do our part in preparing competent, compassionate and Christian nurses—made possible, in part, by our generous and enduring partnership with Arkansas Baptists.