In 1942, the United States faced a terrible problem. While World War II took many of the nation’s men overseas to fight, the war also sent many home injured. With thousands of wounded soldiers in need of medical attention, medical professionals were in high demand; unfortunately, the supply was low. This was especially true regarding nurses, who were constantly needed to oversee the health and recovery of injured servicemen. The expertise of nurses was essential in the recovery process, yet many soldiers were forced to go without sufficient care due to a shortage in qualified caretakers. In an effort to meet the nation’s nursing needs during World War II, the University of South Carolina developed a nursing program lead by Viana McCown. Throughout the years following the introduction of nursing to USC, this program has developed into a college that currently boasts one of the nation’s leading nursing schools.
A pioneer in its field, the University of South Carolina College of Nursing became the first nationally accredited baccalaureate-nursing program in South Carolina in 1957. Offering a plethora of master’s and doctoral programs, the school has graduated 9,300 students. Today, with more than 1,500 graduate and undergraduate students, the USC School of Nursing hosts the largest nursing student body in South Carolina. In 1997, the College established the first nurse-managed medical home in the state while in 2012 alone, the College achieved 96 to 100 percent pass rates on NCLEX and nurse practitioner certification exams and actualized two College of Nursing “Research Centers.”
Allowing students to engage in their education from afar has been a major prerogative that dates back to 1981, when Dean Constance Baker oversaw the first distance-learning courses offered by television. The idea has since been developed into a prestigious online degree program that’s been recognized by US News & World Report as one of the nation’s top three percent online graduate nursing programs.
Though students are given the opportunity to study at the University, they are also awarded the option of taking many of the College of Nursing’s courses online. The ability to learn remotely makes the program more accessible for working nurses and enables them to further their education and earn a degree while continuing to work. The accessibility granted to students correlates with one of the college’s major objectives, which is to increase the number of nurses with baccalaureate and doctoral degrees while allowing nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training.
“Currently, the College of Nursing offers the BSN, MSN, DNP and PhD programs in nursing,” says Ashley Sirianni, a graduate student at the CON working to complete her DNP. “All are fully accredited for 10 years. In 2014, the College of Nursing online graduate programs ranked in the top three percent in the nation –– Go Gamecocks!”
To ensure that the students who graduate from the USC College of Nursing truly embody the standards the school aspires for in all of the nation’s nurses, students are given access to real-world experience through the school’s specialty clinics and simulation lab.
Every day, thousands of Americans find themselves needing some form of medical attention. Unfortunately, receiving this attention — however necessary it may be for a person’s health — isn’t possible for everyone. Recognizing this issue and believing that everyone should have access to quality primary care, the college has established a clinic that aims to bring healthcare to low-income neighborhoods in Columbia. This clinic is known as the Children and Family Healthcare Center and is one of the University Specialty Clinics. Founded in 1997, the center began in the Palmetto Place Shelter for Children to provide healthcare for the many children coming into the foster care system.
“Helping children develop emotionally, socially and academically is just as important as taking care of their health care concerns,” says Toriah Caldwell, director of the Children and Family Healthcare Center. Since 1997, the center has transformed into an establishment that serves more than 7,000 patients. The clinic provides an impressive range of pediatric and specialty services for patients from birth through adulthood and welcomes members of all income levels.
Members of the college’s 120 nationally and internationally known faculty and staff operate the Children and Family Healthcare Center. This clinic has become a quintessential aspect of the college, as it serves to not only make healthcare more accessible for those who may not be able to afford it otherwise but also to give students real-life experience working in a clinic.
“Our clinical experiences are irreplaceable,” Ashley says. “They advance our knowledge base and skill while giving us extensive hands-on clinical experience managing patients who reside in various areas of South Carolina, build confidence and facilitate networking opportunities with clinicians across the state.”
The center offers both experience and accessible medical services, illustrating a successful adherence to the school’s mission statement, which asserts that the college strives for the integration of education, research and practice to advance the profession of nursing, health care delivery and policy.
The recently added Simulation Lab is the college’s most advanced teaching instrument and technique. Being one of the most innovative teaching tools available, the patient simulator uses full-body working mannequins that replicate a real-life patient needing medical attention. The mannequins are programmed to deliver critical vital sign and physiologic information that a nurse needs to determine the best care for their patient, and they respond to care as a human being would.
The Simulation Lab ensures that students will be given the experience of treating patients that have afflictions that students most likely will not experience in their hospital clinical. This includes high-risk situations that only licensed registered nurses can do in the real world.
“We want our students’ preparation to be the best it can be. Education through simulation plays a critical role in preparing students to have the confidence and skills they need, particularly when it comes to acting fast in a low-incidence, high-risk situation,” says Erin McKinney, director of the Clinical Simulation Lab.
Ashley explains, “Our simulation laboratory at the CON is extraordinary. The Simulation lab allows students to build confidence prior to patient clinical experiences.”
The school also boasts impressive leadership and research programs facilitated by the somewhat recent addition of their Cancer Survivorship Center, Healthcare Process Redesign Center and South Carolina Center for Nursing Leadership. Also, one of the College’s faculty members just received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute of Health to study chemical disaster preparedness.
The South Carolina Center for Nursing Leadership was established in 2004 and is a career-long leadership development resource center that provides programs tailored to meet the needs of leaders and their organizations. According to the center’s mission statement: “Leadership skills are essential in today’s rapidly evolving, complex health care systems at all levels, beginning with the nursing student through the nurse executive. Together, with our collaborative partners, we will continue to advance today’s leaders and provide a forum for shaping health care now and in the future. We believe that every nurse is a leader.”
The center is heavily involved with a movement known as South Carolina One Voice One Plan. In 2011, the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action selected the South Carolina Center for Nursing Leadership in partner with the South Carolina Hospital Association to be a SCOVOP Future of Nursing Action Coalition. The coalition works with nurses and organizational leaders throughout South Carolina to ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the 2010 landmark Institute of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. The center supports the increase of degree-holding working nurses, the ability of these degree-holding nurses to practice to their full extent and facilitates coordination and collaboration between various nursing programs.
Along with the Healthcare Process Redesign Center, the college has an impressive research center known as the Cancer Survivorship Center. The Survivorship Center works to help ease the pain of those who are afflicted by cancer while focusing major research efforts on the control and prevention of the disease. Researchers Sue Heiney and Swann Adams lead a federally-funded initiative that seeks to identify and intervene on factors that produce an unequal burden of suffering, particularly among minority populations, according to the Center’s web page. This has become a major focus of the center and has inspired projects that study interval breast cancers in African-American women and the effects of road congestion on the number of breast cancer incidences and mortality in South Carolina. The Center is also involved in the Sistas Inspiring Sistas Through Activity and Support study, gaining hoards of health data through its partnerships with several other health centers.
An impressive academic institution, the College of Nursing has much to boast about to say the least. However for many of the students, the academic experience — comprising of remarkable programs, clinics, research centers and opportunities — is enhanced by the camaraderie, commitment and charisma of the CON community. “USC’s College of Nursing is more than an academic environment,” Ashley says. “It feels like an extended family. I am proud to be a student and look forward to completing my DNP and initiating my career in a rural primary care practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner.”