'And what did you learn today?'

For the Buscaglia family of Italian immigrants, this was the focal question asked each night at the dinner table. The youngest of four children, author Leo Buscaglia grew up listening to his father insist that to avoid the trap of complacency, one must learn at least one new thing each day.

Dr. Jan Wood read some of Buscaglia's works while she was in college and was captivated by this concept. It is a philosophy the new dean of University of Mobile's School of Nursing shares with students.

"I'll tell our students this same thing," she said. "It is important to seek out new information, embrace the challenges that we face and use them as character-building experiences. It is so gratifying to see the positive outcomes that are a result.

"There is always room for improvement – always things to learn," Wood added. "I don't believe we should leave our area of employment without identifying what we have learned that day."

The learning that takes place in the School of Nursing is aimed at producing positive outcomes through graduates who are highly competent healthcare professionals. The program combines academic and technical expertise with hands-on experience and caring for the complete well-being of others.

Dr Jan Wood

Hands-on Learning

Having worked directly with nursing students for the past 26 years, Dr. Kathy Sheppard '85, '03, associate dean for the School of Nursing, advises incoming students that they should expect to put in a lot of hard work.

"I help students try to understand that from the day they enter the clinical nursing courses, they will spend the next two years studying very hard," said Sheppard. "But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They will be prepared for a career – a ministry – they have only begun to dream about. The price is high, but the reward is even greater."

Part of what makes the nursing program at the University of Mobile unique is the small class sizes that allow for personalized attention from faculty.

"I truly enjoyed getting to know my classmates and instructors while attending the University of Mobile," said UMobile graduate Paul Read '98. "The school isn't so huge that an individual gets lost within the student population. As a registered nurse, the skill of critical thinking is a necessity in providing excellent patient care. The format utilized by the nursing instructors allowed us, the students, to develop or improve these skills."

Wood said University of Mobile graduates are well received and sought-after in area hospitals and have consistently been successful on the national licensure exam.

In addition to the stringent program in the classroom and throughout clinicals, students are required to complete 144 hours of work, specializing in an area of their choosing, during the senior year practicum. During this process, students work hands-on with a nurse in an area hospital.

"There has never been a better time to be a nurse," said Diann Carithers, associate professor of nursing at UMobile. "There is so much progress in the profession. The faculty members here are committed to equipping our students with the knowledge and skills they need to ensure that they can find diverse and exciting careers in this evolving health care system."

While clinical exercises are held in several hospitals, the majority of the time is spent at Springhill Medical Center, where the hospital has dedicated an entire lab to the University of Mobile nursing program. This lab includes the latest technology in a real-world setting for nursing students to learn. The education process is enhanced by several "SimMan" devices representing adult and pediatric patients, as well as a birthing center. Each "SimMan" provides highly realistic patient simulation which prepares students for a wide variety of scenarios that could occur in real life.

"The technology that is available for today's nursing students to assist them in learning is fairly remarkable," said Read, who is currently vice president and chief nursing executive for Springhill Medical Center. "The clinical simulation manikins along with the SMH Nursing Lab allow the instructors to put a student in any imaginable scenario with the feel of being in a critical care environment.

"Within the nursing lab are five rooms completely simulating the look and feel of an ICU," he added. "The students become familiar with monitors and equipment utilized during patient care. They also have the ability to learn and utilize an electronic medical record. I believe the skills lab allows the student to become comfortable with their surroundings as well as their ability to work the equipment."

"I frequently work with undergraduate students who, in their first clinical courses, know so little about what they will be doing in their career," said Sheppard. "By the time they get to the last semester, most have not only academically and clinically matured, but already secured their jobs."

Lifelong Learning

In addition to the traditional Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) and Associate of Nursing (ADN) degrees, the University of Mobile offers a Master of Science degree in Nursing (MSN) and an RN-to-BSN program designed specifically for adult nurses.

The American Nurses Association encourages hospitals to satisfy certain criteria in relation to the quality and strength of their nursing by awarding Magnet status to those who qualify. Wood said as more hospitals are seeking this status, there is a greater demand for nurses with bachelor's and master's degrees.

The UMobile RN-to-BSN program, offered through the Center for Adult Programs, promotes Friday-only classes to meet the needs of those students who are working full time and want to continue their education. Many of these students are now choosing to stay in school and earn their master's degree right after graduation.

"We have a strong focus in the MSN program with a dual concentration in administration and education," said Wood. "This program is unique to UMobile and combines the strongest components of both concentrations into one to fill a need for students who would like the option to pursue either direction."

Project Serve

The knowledge that UMobile's nursing students receive is not just academic in nature.

"The most important thing I would like for students to learn is that every day they are caring for someone's child," said Sheppard. "They should deliver care to each person the way they would want it delivered to their loved ones."

UMobile faculty stress that this caring should not only be shown in the healthcare setting, but also through a life of service to the community. The University of Mobile Association of Nursing Students (UMANS) organizes a variety of service projects each year including Thanksgiving baskets and jacket drives for the homeless, and participation in cancer walks.

This year nursing students are partnering with Westside Baseball Park in Mobile to help with a program for special needs children.

"Our nursing students will be 'big buddies' with the special needs children throughout next semester," said Jenelle McElroy '08, instructor in nursing. "Each student is paired with a child to help them with activities such as running bases during baseball and just spending time with them at the park."

McElroy took this partnership a step further by making Westside the service location for the School of Nursing during the annual UMobile Project Serve.

"As a nursing group, we wish to encourage families to have an active lifestyle to promote wellness," said McElroy. "We feel it is essential that family activities such as baseball are promoted in this initiative."

The University of Mobile's second annual Project Serve was held Friday, Sept. 21 when more than 1,200 faculty, staff and students traveled throughout Mobile and Baldwin counties.

For this community baseball park in West Mobile, the need was great. Over 250 UMobile nursing students and faculty renovated the park by cleaning, painting and performing general maintenance.

"As a result of our work, the park was given a gleaming face lift from front to back," said McElroy. "The board members at the park were astonished by how much work was done and how genuinely committed our students were."

"Being a part of Project Serve was an extremely rewarding experience," said Jessica Carter, a senior nursing student from Fairhope, AL. "To know that I was making a difference with each stroke of my paintbrush was life-changing. Project Serve reminded me that I need to take a step back from my crazy schedule, and put the needs of others first."


Learning by Example

UMobile nursing faculty lead by example when it comes to individual care.

"One of the most important aspects of the UMobile education is the emphasis we place on the whole student," explained Wood. "Combining high academic standards with an emphasis on individualized student-oriented education from a Christian perspective is what makes us truly unique."

"We value excellence and innovation in preserving and advancing the nursing profession," said Carithers. "UMobile faculty strive to be positive role models and caring practitioners that incorporate Christian worldview in both the academic and clinical settings. We are proud of our profession and are appreciative of the opportunity to train future nursing practitioners and leaders."

"As our students walk across the stage to receive their diploma, I know them," said Sheppard. "I know about their families and the challenges they have overcome to get there. I enjoy that feeling of pride that they have succeeded. They have learned many lessons both academically and personally that will prepare them for a ministry of serving Christ through serving others."

These are lessons students can then share with others in their career, or at the dinner table, for years to come.