Mississippi College Alumni Magazine | Summer 2012

Learning the Vital Signs

The MC School of Nursing focuses on physical and spiritual wellbeing

A glass display case in the lobby of Cockroft Hall holds treasured memorabilia from the first days of the MC School of Nursing. Front and center among the photos, well-thumbed textbooks, and other keepsakes is a uniform originally worn by MC student nurses when they visited local hospitals for clinical rotations. The uniform includes a blue dress – a short blue dress, in keeping with the fashion of 1969, when the school was founded – topped by a crisp white apron and a distinctive white nurse’s cap. It’s the very uniform once worn by Susan Richardson, associate professor of nursing, when she was a member of the class of 1973, the School of Nursing’s first graduating class.

“I can still wear that uniform today,” Richardson says with a smile.

Further down the hall is a group photo of the class of ’73. Among the 17 women smiling broadly from the portrait are Richardson, Mary Ann Henriques, associate professor of nursing, and Mary Jean Padgett, dean and professor of the School of Nursing.

Richardson, Henriques, and Padgett met as students in that first class more than four decades ago. As they’ve moved from classmates to nurses to teaching colleagues, the three have shared a calling to nursing, a 40-plus-year friendship, and a commitment to Christian caring that’s become the hallmark of the Mississippi College School of Nursing.

The First Shift

Mary Jean Padgett was the first prospective student interviewed for the MC nursing program.

“Dr. Marian Bassett, the first dean of the School of Nursing, was already on staff, but there was no furniture in her office,” Padgett recalls. “They brought in a chair for my mother, and Dr. Bassett and I sat on the floor and talked.” Joining Padgett in the inaugural class of all-female students were Mary Ann Henriques and Susan Richardson.

“We were blazing the way for everyone who has come since,” Henriques recalls. “Looking back, almost everything in that first year was makeshift, but that just made it more exciting.”

The fourth floor of Lowrey Hall served as the nursing program’s classroom and laboratory. The students shared a limited number of textbooks, and the course syllabus changed on a day-to-day basis. Faculty members from other departments pitched in to teach courses in chemistry and other sciences. When the nursing students reached the section on pediatrics, one of the instructors brought her children to class to serve as the “patients.”

“We were the guinea pigs for the nursing program,” Padgett recalls with a smile.

In the years following their graduation, Padgett, Richardson, and Henriques worked in various hospitals and medical offices throughout the South; Padgett and Richardson also taught at community colleges and universities. Eventually all three found their way back to Mississippi College.

“There is something special here that pulled us all back,” Padgett says. “I think it’s the Christian caring we experienced and shared at MC as students, and that we’re now sharing with our own students today.”

Intensive Care for the Body and the Spirit

  In the spring semester of 2012, MC was home to 148 students in the clinical level of the nursing program and 250-300 students pursuing a pre-nursing curriculum. While the program has become one of the largest majors at MC, the concept of Christian caring that began with that first small class in 1969 still characterizes the program today. At MC, “Christian caring” isn’t just an abstract concept; it’s a unique approach to nursing that is woven through the curriculum.

“MC taught me that you can have all the skills in the world as a nurse, but if you don’t demonstrate Christian caring to each patient, family member, and co-worker... then what are you really doing?” says Laney Brock ’12, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at University Medical Center (UMC) in Jackson. “And we weren’t just taught Christian caring. Our instructors demonstrated it to us every step of the way. They showed us they cared about each of our journeys, not only our journey as nurses, but our spiritual journey as well. I’ve gained compassion from my own experience in the field, but also by seeing my instructors’ love and dedication to others.” 

MC nursing students learn not only how to care for a patient’s physical condition, but also to address the patient’s spiritual needs. While the MC nursing program is grounded in the Christian faith, students are trained to assess the spiritual needs of every patient, regardless of his or her faith or beliefs.  

“We are teaching spiritual care from a Christian perspective,” Padgett explains. “Addressing a patient’s spiritual needs might include praying with a Christian patient, asking a Jewish patient if he or she would like kosher meals, calling a priest for a Catholic patient, or making sure a patient has the opportunity to meditate. Other schools teach this to a limited extent, but I don’t believe many other schools incorporate the idea of spiritual caring into the program the way MC does.”

“On clinical days, we have a two-minute devotion to start the day,” Henriques says. “One recent graduate told me that two minutes made the tough days easier.”

“Beginning every clinical rotation with a devotion and prayer equipped us to take those jewels of God’s insight into the patients’ rooms and share God’s love and compassion,” says Joan Elliott ’07, the clinic nurse manager for Baptist Medical Clinics in Jackson. “True compassion cannot be ‘taught,’ but it can be nurtured. The faculty and staff at MC lead by example. On several occasions, I witnessed my teachers pray directly with the patients I was taking care of. What a ministry!”

To increase their awareness of the importance of Christian caring in nursing, students are required to provide a written description of something they witnessed during each clinical rotation that served as an example of caring or – non-caring – behavior.

“We were told to write Christian caring journals, which would document our feelings about encounters with patients and families that allowed us to show Christian caring. We all thought this was a ridiculous assignment because writing about ‘feelings’ when you have a million things to do just can’t be a priority,” says Hailey Moore, who will graduate from the program in December. “But as I wrote, I realized I was encountering people who needed prayer or advocacy in a world where healthcare is becoming so efficient and streamlined that the spiritual needs of the person are being overlooked. Clients can tell when they are being taken care of versus truly cared for. Any nurse can perform skills, but love, compassion, and caring are attributes that are cultivated in MC students.”

That love, compassion, and caring are clear when graduates enter the workplace.

“Many people who’ve been in the hospital or had family members in the hospital have told me that if they had a nurse who went to MC, they could tell a difference,” Henriques says.

“At MC, students are taught the importance of the person outweighing the importance of the specific nursing task at hand,” says Hannah Griffin ’12, a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at UMC. “People have deeper needs than just physical needs. MC’s Christian caring focus has guided me to bring the love of Christ into the lives of many needy patients.”

“The MC School of Nursing equipped me with more than just the mechanics of nursing. It strengthened my ability to minister to my patients’ spiritual wellbeing,” Elliott says. “I’m so thankful that the program places such importance on compassion and the Christian caring aspect of healing. I especially draw on that teaching on difficult days.”

Professor Mary Ann Henriques experienced one of those “difficult days” herself more than 40 years ago. The lesson she learned that day from her own MC instructor has shaped every aspect of her career since, and serves as a constant reminder of the importance of instilling compassion in her own students.

“I remember every detail of that day. One of our teachers was Professor Reita Keyes. She was brilliant and very intimidating,” Henriques says. “I was in clinical at the old Baptist Hospital, and Professor Keyes had told me very firmly, ‘I want you to stay busy all day.’ I was taking care of a little old man in 2C and he was sitting in a chair while I changed the sheets on his bed. That little man started to cry. He told me that he knew he was going to die soon. I started crying, too. I stopped what I was doing and just sat with him for a minute.

“I looked up and Professor Keyes was standing in the doorway. I thought, ‘Oh no, she’s going to fail me because I haven’t finished my work and I’m just sitting here, crying.’ Instead, Professor Keyes told me I’d done the right thing. She said, ‘The day you can’t stop to shed a tear with a patient is the day you need to leave nursing.’”

Nursing by the Numbers

The School of Nursing’s first graduating class in 1973 included 17 members.

In the spring semester of 2012, 148 students were enrolled in the clinical level of the nursing program and 250-300 students were pursuing a pre-nursing curriculum.

The School of Nursing’s state licensing exam (NCLEX) passage rate is consistently high. The passage rate for December 2011 graduates was 97 percent.

The School of Nursing has graduated 1,800 students, including 1,500 in the traditional B.S. in nursing program and 300 in an RN to B.S.N. program for registered nurses who wish to earn a B.S.

Of the B.S. program’s 1,500 graduates, 1,496 have passed the state licensing exam.

Between 95 and 100 percent of nursing school graduates are employed fulltime within one year of graduation. 

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