The School of Nursing at Emory & Henry

Preparing the healthcare workforce for tomorrow’s challenges.

Posted September 01, 2021

“Even before the Pandemic, there was a great demand for nurses in Southwest Virginia. There are no BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) programs for 100 miles along the I-81 corridor from the Virginia border to Radford. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations,” said Dr. Laurie Anne Ferguson, founding dean of the Emory & Henry School of Nursing. Students practicing CPR in the simulation lab. Students practicing CPR in the simulation lab.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has highlighted the need for more nurses which provides a strategic opportunity to launch nursing programs. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Nurses Association, American Organization of Nurse Executives, and National League for Nursing, all are united in their view that a more highly educated nursing workforce is critical to meeting the nation’s nursing needs. The complexities of modern healthcare dictate the need for all “bedside” nurses to be educated with a minimum of a BSN, said Ferguson.

To help alleviate the need for nursing providers in Southwest Virginia and elsewhere, Emory & Henry launched a new School of Nursing in the spring of 2021, with Ferguson as its dean.

Formerly dean of the College of Nursing and Health and director of the School of Nursing at Loyola University in New Orleans, Ferguson brings more than 40 years in nursing and 38 years of experience as a nurse practitioner in a variety of clinical settings, and has been a nursing educator since 1993. “Practicing clinically brings me joy and keeps me relevant and grounded. I have many patient stories of joy and success and ones of sadness and despair. I carry the memories of some patients forever in my heart as reminders of lessons learned. We need intelligent, caring individuals to choose nursing.”

Ferguson also brings strong leadership skills and a record of building innovative nursing programs while treating underserved populations in a rural healthcare setting.

“A significant amount of my clinical experience has been in rural, even frontier status, underserved areas across the continent; East coast, West coast, Canada and the South. While regional cultures may vary, many of the challenges in terms of access to quality healthcare are the same. Positively impacting the healthcare shortage starts with first increasing access to educational opportunities. Students who are educated in the region are more likely to stay in the region upon graduation,” said Ferguson.

The Health Sciences Campus, Marion, Virginia The Health Sciences Campus, Marion, VirginiaExceptional Facilities

“One of the strengths of receiving a nursing education at Emory & Henry is our truly exceptional state-of-the-art facilities, including simulation labs, which foster opportunities for interprofessional education. Part of the preparation in launching our nursing programs was the expansion of simulation facilities at the Health Sciences Campus, including acute care and women’s health/pediatric labs. We were able to build these state-of-the-art simulation labs due to the support from the Williams-Berry Foundation gift,” said Ferguson.

The simulation lab was one of the reasons Ferguson chose to work at Emory & Henry, along with the beautiful campus and welcoming colleagues. “The challenge to start a new program from the ground up and be a part of interprofessional education was an opportunity too good to pass up,” she said.

“We are also very thankful to have Dr. Saundra R. Farmer as the founding chair and director of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program and Dr. Teressa Wexler, a practicing nurse for more than 37 years, as our clinical assistant professor,” said Ferguson.

Why Choose a Nursing Career?

“The old adage, ‘if you love your job, you never work a day in your life,’ is so true. Your career should be your passion because that will help you through the tough days,” said Ferguson. “Nursing is not my only passion, but it has allowed me to have flexibility while providing great satisfaction and reward.

“I want the Emory & Henry nurse to choose the profession out of a thirst for knowledge, a commitment to integrity, and a love for all people. You will never be unemployed by choice as a nurse, but life is too short to choose a career that does not bring joy,” Ferguson continued. “It is a true privilege to be present at the birth of a baby, help to restore health to the sick or injured, and to care for a person at the end of life. Few professions provide such joy and intimacy in the human experience.”

Emory & Henry has a long tradition in providing a high quality liberal arts education. Today’s health professionals need critical thinking and communication skills. An education rooted in the liberal arts and the sciences provides a strong foundation to meet increasingly complex healthcare needs. The Emory & Henry nurse will be well prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Growth in Regional Partnerships

The School of Nursing continues to develop connections with Ballad Health to partner in providing clinical educational support, as well as providing input regarding workforce needs. Dr. Lisa Smithgall, senior vice president and chief nursing executive at Ballad Health, said she is proud to partner with the College to help fulfill the need for healthcare workers in the Appalachian Highlands.

“We have worked with Emory & Henry’s nursing leadership in the development of the School of Nursing, and we are happy to provide clinical placements at Ballad Health so that nursing students can gain critical, clinical education during their training.”

“We look forward to hiring nurses who are trained regionally and who want to care for patients in our community upon graduation. We fully believe that Emory & Henry will produce high-quality leaders and caring nurses.” - Dr. Smithgall

What’s Next for the School of Nursing?

“In addition to BSN-prepared nurses, we need more nurses with advanced degrees. Nurses with masters and doctoral degrees are needed to fill advanced clinical, leadership and academic roles,” said Ferguson. “We are actively pursuing additional financial support to assist these endeavors.” The School of Nursing recently received a $207,195 Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission Grant to support the new pre-licensure BSN program.

Ferguson also noted that beyond the BSN program, future plans for the School of Nursing include developing graduate programs at both the masters and doctoral level, including accelerated paths to advanced degrees. “Graduate programs in the School of Nursing may be delivered in a variety of modalities such as face-to-face, online or hybrid to provide access and flexibility for working professionals. We are using market analyses as well as input from our partners at Ballad Health to guide this process,” said Ferguson.

“We strongly believe that the liberal arts education for which Emory & Henry is known will provide a solid foundation for the new innovative and comprehensive BSN program,” said Dr. Lou Fincher, Emory & Henry’s senior vice president and dean of the School of Health Sciences. “We expect our graduates to be caring leaders and change agents in the healthcare disciplines.”

Dr. Farmer (left) with students. Dr. Farmer (left) with students.

About the Program, Certification and Licensure

The license credential “Registered Nurse” (RN) is conferred after successful passage of a national licensing exam, called the NCLEX.Educational programs, which include Diploma, Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees prepare graduates to qualify and take the NCLEX.

The BSN program in the School of Nursing has two tracks. The first is the RN-BSN program. The RN-BSN program is for currently licensed Registered Nurses who were prepared at the Associate Degree or Diploma who want to pursue a BSN. The program offers a “degree completion” option online. The second track is the new pre-license BSN program, for which students began classes this fall in pre-nursing. A small cohort is currently being recruited to start nursing courses in January of 2022.

Nursing programs, in addition to required regional accreditation such as SACSCOC, must also be accredited and/or approved by their respective State Boards of Nursing as well as a nursing accreditation body. The E&H School of Nursing hosted both a virtual as well as an on-site visit by the Virginia Board of Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) in March 2021. The School of Nursing is waiting for the notification on the decision from CCNE’s board of commissioners regarding accreditation status.

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