When Rogers State University awards its first bachelor’s degrees at commencement this year, the university also will celebrate the 20th graduating class of one of its top two-year programs.
RSU will present degrees to its nursing graduates for the 20th time – a milestone for one of Oklahoma’s most successful academic programs.
Last year’s graduating nursing class at RSU passed the registered nurse (R.N.) licensure exam at a rate of 97.4 percent – higher than the state average of 84.9 percent and the national average of 85.5 percent.
“RSU has always had hard-working and dedicated students in its nursing program,” said Linda Andrews, head of RSU’s Department of Health Sciences and the director of its nursing program for nine years.
She attributes the success of RSU’s nursing program to high quality faculty and superior physical resources.
“Our faculty members adhere to the highest standards of nursing education,” she said. “In addition to being strong clinically, they are experts in curriculum design and test development.
“The physical resources of RSU’s nursing program are second to none,” she said. “Our building, nursing laboratories, even the models we work on, are the best available. Our library services and video and computer-based instruction are also excellent.”
Andrews said much of the nursing program’s success is due to the generosity and dedication of contributors, including the Claremore Regional Hospital Auxiliary, Founders and Associates of Tulsa and the Chapman Foundation of Tulsa, as well as other foundations and individuals.
“Our contributors should really feel a sense of accomplishment,” Andrews says. “Their contributions have provided well-prepared nurses for northeast Oklahoma and in turn, have made a real impact on health care in the area.”
She also attributed the program’s success to the generosity of taxpayers who approved a bond issue in 1991 to fund the university’s Health Sciences Building. “They provided us with one of the best nursing education and training centers in the state,” according to Andrews.
RSU offers a two-year associate of applied science degree (A.A.S.) in nursing and a one-year bridge program for paramedics who wish to pursue a dual career in nursing and emergency medical services (allowing them to become flight nurses.)
Each semester, 65 students are admitted to RSU’s nursing program from more than 100 applicants. Enrollment in the program is limited to keep student-faculty ratios low, and to ensure that highly qualified students enter the program, Andrews said. Admission is based on previous academic success.
In addition to a solid educational background in the arts and sciences, and specialized nursing courses, RSU nursing students complete their clinical requirements in both urban and rural settings at hospitals in Claremore, Pryor and Tulsa.
RSU nursing students generally come from a 50-mile radius of Claremore. About 25 percent of each year’s class are from Tulsa and 11 percent are men, Andrews said. Most students are in their 20s and 30s, although students of all ages and backgrounds are enrolled in the program. Students are accepted on a part-time or full-time basis.
“Nursing is a rigorous academic discipline,” she said. “Skills remain important, but today, nursing requires critical thinking and a high level of intellectual ability. It’s not what you do with your hands, but what you do with your brain.”
Andrews has witnessed many changes in the nursing field during her career, including a major shortage of nurses. The nation’s shortage in nursing has drawn much publicity in the last decade and remains a critical problem. Andrews attributes the shortage to a public perception of nursing as a female-dominated profession.
“Nursing has traditionally been viewed as a women’s profession,” she said. “So when many other fields began to open up to women, areas such as business, law, and even the ministry, more female students began to pursue those disciplines. That left fewer women interested in nursing.”
A declining interest in nursing among students coincided with the rapid expansion of health care services and options, resulting in a major national shortage. This is one of the reasons the RSU nursing program was created in 1981.
It all started in January of 1980 when Ilene Flanagan, a member of the Board of Regents of what was then known as Claremore College, met at the Hammett House Restaurant with Dr. Richard H. Mosier, president of the college, and Ben Schnitzius, administrator of Collinsville Memorial Hospital, to discuss the creation of a nursing program.
From that initial meeting, and from the subsequent endorsement and support of the board of regents, the decision was made to establish the nursing program.
The RSU Foundation – then known as the Claremore College Foundation – under the leadership of its chairman, Paul D. Kolman, and the secretary-treasurer, Danette Boyle, now RSU’s vice president for development, adopted a goal of $80,369 to initiate development of the school. At the annual meeting of the foundation in August of 1981, Mosier announced that the goal had been reached. That fall, students began enrolling in the program.
Since then, RSU’s nursing program has developed a reputation as one of the best two-year programs in the state, Andrews said.
In February, a site team from the National League of Nursing Accrediting Committee, the nation’s major nursing accrediting body, conducted a review of RSU’s nursing program and recommended approval for the next eight years – the maximum length of time granted to institutions before their next review. The league’s board will vote on the committee’s recommendation in June.
In 1998, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing gave the RSU program six commendations and no deficiencies during its five-year review. The next review will occur in the spring of 2003.
Opportunities for students in nursing have never been wider, Andrews said.
“Only half of all nurses work in acute care facilities such as hospitals,” she said. “Today, nurses work in ambulatory care, home health care, major corporations, correctional facilities, and more.”
Many RSU nursing students have gone on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Oklahoma, University of Tulsa, and other institutions. Several also have become nurse practitioners or received specialized education in other areas. RNs may become certified registered nurse anesthesiologists, and earn master’s and doctoral degrees to enter nursing education or research.
Forensic nursing is also a growing field in which nurses are trained to comfort and properly examine victims of sexual assault. They are also called upon to testify in court in cases of rape.
Salaries for beginning RNs in the Claremore and Tulsa areas typically start around $35,000 a year, Andrews said. RNs with master’s or doctoral degrees in management positions at area hospitals often earn up to $80,000. Nurse practitioners can often earn more.
This year, RSU’s nursing students will participate in a pinning ceremony at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, at Will Rogers Auditorium on the Claremore campus. Then they will join the rest of the university’s degree candidates at the annual commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. at the Claremore Expo Center.
For more information on RSU’s nursing program, call (918) 343-7635 or visit www.rsu.edu.