Last month, the College of Nursing and USM family said good-bye to a former nursing dean. Dr. Gerry Cadenhead Fletcher began her career at The University of Southern Mississippi in 1980 to serve as the Chair of the Baccalaureate program at Southern Miss. She was named Dean of the College of Nursing in 1987 and served in that position until her retirement in 2001. During her tenure at Southern Miss, Dr. Fletcher used her influence to advance the College of Nursing, foster professional development of faculty, and guide students in their careers. After her retirement, Dr. Fletcher remained involved with the university, Mississippi nursing, and the Southern Miss Nursing program.
Gerry was a dynamic nursing leader, a true friend of Mississippi Nursing, an inspiration to students, and a positive and supportive friend to many. Most important is that Gerry modeled for all of us the importance of being engaged in your university, your place of employment, your profession and to give back to those institutions that provided you with the opportunity to be successful and to make a difference.
Gerry will always be remembered for her influence on others. As stated by one alumni and former USM nursing faculty, “Southern Miss and nursing have lost an irreplaceable and valuable treasure”.
The 2012 Annual Report for the Mississippi Nursing Degree Programs reported that nursing enrollment in all programs of nursing in Mississippi has increased by 15.9 percent from Fall 2008. The report further documented that the highest percentage of growth occurred in the enrollment of students in the baccalaureate and higher degree programs of nursing. There was a 38.7% increase in the number of students enrolled in bachelor programs, a 35.7% increase enrollment in masters programs and a 359.3% increase of students enrolled in doctoral programs.
The deans and directors of the programs of nursing in the state of Mississippi have worked diligently to address the recommendations of the Institutes of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report on the Future of Nursing : Leading Change, Advancing Healthcare http://thefutureofnursing.org/. Those recommendations include:
- Nurses should practice to the full extent of their education and training.
- Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.
- Nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals
- Effective workforce planning and policy making require better data collection and information infrastructure.
One important initiative in Mississippi is creating “seamless transitions” between academic programs that will help create a more highly educated nursing workforce, which will improve patient care and help fill faculty and advanced practice nursing roles, as well as graduate competent future nurses. The data from the 2012 annual report documents our progress.
This data shows that quality patient care hinges on having a well-educated nursing workforce. Research has shown that lower mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and positive outcomes are all linked to nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and graduate degree levels (American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2012).
The start of a new year also brings a return of the College of Nursing to the Long Beach campus. Since 2004 the Nursing faculty and staff have been housed in the renovated former Garden Park Hospital in Gulfport. The new facility provides adequate faculty offices, conferences rooms, and lounge. The facility also houses the Clinical simulation lab which is a critical component of the nursing curriculum. In the simulation lab students have an opportunity to provide care for simulated patients with selected diagnoses, to develop clinical decision- making skills, and a place to debrief, evaluate, and reflect on the provided nursing care.
This wonderful building on the main campus increases the visibility of nursing and its role in providing quality education to future students of The University of Southern Mississippi.
Yesterday I had the wonderful pleasure of welcoming the first class of Nurse Anesthesia students to be enrolled in the newly accredited Southern Miss Nurse Anesthesia Program. The 20 students talked about their excitement of being able to achieve this educational dream at Southern Miss and their apprehension of the program’s rigor. They are beginning an educational journey that will provide them with the competencies and knowledge needed to be certified as a nurse anesthetist, as well as, the skills to assume leadership in their practice area and in the health care arena.
The implementation of the Nurse Anesthesia Program is another landmark in the history of Southern Miss nursing and is the only nurse anesthesia degree granting program in Mississippi. This program is a 36 month, post-baccalaureate to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
We look forward to the success of this inaugural class.
Fall semester ended this past week with finals and events associated with the pomp and circumstance of graduation. The College of Nursing (CON) had 125 graduates who were awarded the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice, or Doctor of Philosophy. Faculty, family, and friends gathered in the Bennett Auditorium for the CON Recognition Ceremony to acknowledge the accomplishments of our graduates. It was a gratifying event for all.
The significance of the events this past week extends beyond the personal achievements of our graduates. The number of graduates and the diversity of the degrees emphasize The University of Southern Mississippi College of Nursing’s commitment to meet the health indicators of our population and nursing workforce projections. The Institute of Medicine Report Future of Nursing Leading Change, Advancing Health has issued the challenge to transform nursing and health care. Our faculty and our graduates accept that challenge to become leaders in this change. In the words of Nelson Mandela “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”