By Dr. Ben Sells

President, Ouachita Baptist Univeristy

[Perspective] Ouachita addressing Arkansas nursing shortage

By Dr. Ben Sells

President, Ouachita Baptist Univeristy

In four years, Ouachita’s nursing program has grown from zero to 100 students, part of our commitment to addressing the state’s critical nursing shortage – estimated to be 15,000 – which is markedly acute in rural areas.  

During this journey, I’ve been encouraged by the accounts of Jesus healing people, especially the story of the paralytic – and in particular, the role of his four friends.  

Here’s a quick summary from the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is at a home in Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. Word spreads of His presence, and people flock to see Him. We’re introduced to a person who is bedridden from paralysis and the four friends who carry him on a pallet to find Jesus. 

They make their way to the home, but it’s full – they can’t even make it to the front door. The story could have ended there; it would be hard to blame the friends for giving up in what appeared to be an impossible situation. Instead, their resourcefulness kicks in when they decide to climb to the roof, probably by a flight of outside stairs.  

It took effort to reach the rooftop. Then they had to dig an opening in the roof, which likely meant breaking up a hardened composite of mortar, tar, ashes, sand and plaster. With boldness and care, they managed to keep from falling in or falling on Jesus and the people below. They lowered their friend into Jesus’ presence, which must have taken planning, ingenuity and strength.  

Jesus responded to the paralytic, saying: “My son, your sins are forgiven” and “I say to you, take up your pallet and go home.” The story concludes: “And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’”  

While it’s not the main point of the story, I noticed the difference made by the partnership and perseverance of friends.  

Starting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program was more difficult than imagined. It required gaining regulatory approvals from many groups, recruiting skilled and mission-fit faculty in a competitive marketplace, securing clinical arrangements with healthcare facilities and building a state-of-the art nursing education center. 

An array of friends including Baptist Health and Arkansas Baptists, who believed in us and shared our commitment to equipping nurses, made this program possible. Indeed, our friends made all the difference.  

The story of the paralytic highlights the role of friends, but there are two dimensions of the story that are even more important and are relevant for us at Ouachita: Jesus heals, and Jesus forgives sins. 

As a Christian university, we believe that God involves people in his larger redemptive purposes. That He chooses to include Christian nurses – women and men who are called, compassionate and competent to extend care and comfort, healing and hope.  

For those who respond to this call, we believe the nursing profession can also be a ministry, a way to live out the university’s first value of “Faith” which declares: “We believe that life is lived most abundantly in response to the love of God through Jesus Christ.”  

At Ouachita, we’re celebrating our new nursing program, and consecrating ourselves anew to God’s healing and redemptive work. And giving thanks for persevering friends.  

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