Nursing program accreditation opens door for growth

April 23, 2010

SAN ANTONIO – Earning the coveted accreditation from the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission was a great accomplishment for Wayland Baptist University’s School of Nursing, housed on the San Antonio campus.

But for Dr. Diane Frazor, dean of the nursing school, the accreditation was a step toward even greater things for the future. After earning the official approval from NLNAC in March, Frazor and the School of Nursing faculty are free to not only keep dreaming but also to now act on those dreams.

“It has been very exciting for us,” said Frazor, who joined the WBU team in March 2006 to help develop the nursing degree, then under the auspices of the School of Mathematics and Sciences based on the Plainview campus. “At our first pinning (held in August 2009), I remember Dr. (Jim) Antenen (San Antonio campus executive director) saying he never thought this would happen.”

While the nursing program – which started at Wayland in August 2006 with just the R.N.-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing option – has practically “grown itself,” according to Frazor, the plans could mean great explosion for the program down the road.

Part of that plan is pure growth – adding students and faculty to be able to train more nurses to respond to a shortage that continues nationwide. Currently, the School of Nursing caps its cohort to 30 students, and for clinical situations, Frazor said the accrediting board requires one faculty member for every 10 students.

But with an estimated 400-500 pre-nursing students identified in the area that have to finish their B.S.N. degree somewhere, Frazor said the field is ripe to harvest. The new accreditation mark also opens the program up to military personnel who want to pursue the B.S.N. and are required by the U.S. Armed Forces to attend an accredited school. The school has already seen enrollees from nearby Fort Sam Houston and expects more military applicants soon.

One such student is Andre Brown, a 30-year-old Army medic from San Diego who has hopes of becoming a nurse anesthetist in military hospitals. After being at Fort Sam Houston for two years, he learned the Army would help put him through nursing school in return for his long-term commitment. Wayland’s program, format and location were most convenient for Brown, and he started classes in the fall toward the B.S.N..

The only current limitations for the School of Nursing are space – the San Antonio campus is at capacity for its nursing classrooms – and faculty, which Frazor said are hard to come by in the nursing field.

“The pay for teaching nurses is not nearly what it is for practicing nurses. Education is not as lucrative,” she said. “You either love it or you don’t. I’ve done this for 28 years and took one year off to work and I hated it. I missed the students.”

Frazor said the opportunity to help build Wayland’s program from the ground up has been an exciting career move for her. And while most would say it’s been a roaring success, she has her sights set on even bigger milestones.

Among those is a master’s degree in nursing, which she said is becoming more popular at hospitals due to the need for continued education and updated methods. While that may be a bit down the road, Frazor said it’s definitely doable once WBU overcomes the hurdles of space and faculty shortages. From there, the hope is to expand the nursing degree offerings on some of Wayland’s other campuses where the need is greatest and faculty can be secured.

While the nursing program has been officially up and running since 2006, accreditation was not possible until Wayland graduated its first class of nurses. Up against a board requirement of an 80 percent pass rate, pressure was high as the accrediting body kept a close eye on the infant program. But WBU needn’t have worried. Its inaugural graduating class boasted a 100 percent pass rate, helping boost the School of Nursing to the goal.

Just a year after the bridge degree was introduced – offering R.N.s a chance to convert to the higher degree for career advancement or further education – Wayland began offering that option fully online and received approval for the generic B.S.N. degree as well.

While the university at first was satisfied with the R.N.-to-B.S.N., Frazor said she knew that the higher degrees would be more in demand as time went on. The first cohort for the generic B.S.N. started classes in August 2007, earning their traditional R.N. pins in a special ceremony in August 2009, just as the university closed out its centennial celebration.

Another success of the program has been its retention rate. Frazor noted that most nursing programs lost 50 percent of their students from the initial class to graduation. Wayland lost none of its first class, and Frazor said that’s a bigger feat than many realize.

“Nursing school is hard because students don’t realize it’s not like regular college,” she said. “You are supposed to study double the usual for nursing, and you may have 20 chapters on a test. It’s like med school in some ways.”

The result, she said, is nurses trained to endure struggle and study and who know their role well.

“You can’t just go about it haphazardly when you’re caring for patients,” she said. “So we have to maintain the high standards.”

One new development for the School of Nursing is a contract with Mid America School of Learning to provide the B.S.N. course work for practicing chiropractors seeking that certification. These practitioners will be solely online students but will complete their clinical rotations in San Antonio. Frazor noted that they will have to sit for the boards and exams just like other nursing students and will have to attend a 44-hour week-long skills lab and orientation in San Antonio before the term begins.

A native of El Paso, Frazor earned her B.S.N. at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center and her doctorate at the University of Houston. She worked in the Texas valley for 22 years and has lived in San Antonio for seven.