August 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Program at Panola College with a new class of 36 ADN students.  The ADN program prepares Registered Nurses (RN) for nursing positions in hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, hospice care, and home health care.

The program began in 1994 in the remodeled W.C. Smith Health Science Center, a building that was originally a Gibson’s department store. In 1995, the first class of nurses graduated from the program. Geri Faircloth was the first program director, succeeded by Mary Girard in 1998, and Dr. Barbara Cordell in 2000.

In the past 15 years, under the administrative leadership of Dr. Greg Powell, Panola College President, the program has grown from 50 students to an average of 135 students, and from six full-time faculty members to 10.

In 2007, Panola College was the first nursing program in the state to offer an online track, along with advanced placement for Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN). During the 2014-2015 academic year, the ADN program was awarded nearly $500,000 in state grants to purchase equipment for the simulation labs in the new Health and Natural Sciences Building.adn3

Tedra Parker, first-semester ADN student from Longview, listens during ADN orientation.

Since its inception, the ADN program has maintained full approval from the Texas Board of Nursing. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) granted national accreditation in 2004, and renewed the accreditation in 2009. The national approval status remains in effect through 2017 when the program will go through renewal review. These two agencies list multiple criteria that must be met for a nursing program to achieve full approval. One criterion strongly weighted by accreditors is the national licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) first-time pass rate.

“Our pass rate has steadily increased over the past four years and stands at 95.83 percent, of which we are very proud,” said Cordell.  “But we never rest on our laurels.” 

Each year, the ADN faculty and administrators conduct a systematic evaluation of all elements of the program to ensure continuous quality improvement. For example, faculty must maintain certain standards of teaching proficiency. For 2014-2015, all faculty members participated in training to increase student engagement in the classroom.

In 2012, when the faculty evaluation committee noticed a drop in the program’s graduation rates, the committee members developed new policies and adopted a new curriculum. The goal of the effort was to increase the number of graduates, as well as to keep pace with the rapid changes in the nursing profession. After two years of work, and approval from the Board of Nursing and ACEN, the new curriculum and policies are ready for implementation in Fall 2015. Panola College administrators and nursing faculty will monitor and evaluate the impact of the new curriculum and policies over the next two years, according to Cordell.

The new Health and Natural Sciences Building is ready for Fall 2015 classes, which began Monday, Aug. 24. The building is phase one of construction and renovation at Panola College, funded by a $35 million bond issue, approved by voters in May 2013.  “This is an exciting time for our program to be starting fresh with a new building, as well as an updated course of study,” Cordell said.

Nursing remains a growing profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which projects 19 percent growth in the job outlook through 2022. The 2012 median pay for registered nurses was $65,470, or $31.48 per hour, according to the BLS.

Panola College held orientation for new ADN students on Thursday, Aug. 20. Graduates and third-semester students talked to the incoming class members about their experiences, and encouraged them to work hard during the 24-month curriculum.adn2

Third-semester student Chandler Brooks, right, assists first-year student Tedra Parker at ADN orientation.

Mary Whatley of Jefferson completed the Panola Online Nursing Education (ONE) program in August. She entered the ADN program after working 18 years as an LVN at Good Shepherd Hospital in Marshall.

“After my children were older, I decided it was time to do something for me,” she said. “I had a good support system at home. My daughter is a student at Baylor. I wanted my son and daughter to realize how important it is to get a good education.” 

She praised the Panola College ADN faculty. “The nursing faculty members are great. First-year students are sometimes scared to ask questions, but these professors are here to help you! Utilize them.”

Brad Baker, an ADN graduate who now participates in the RN Residency Program at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, said he decided to be a nurse because he wanted to make a difference.

“Nursing stood out as a rewarding and attainable career choice,” he said, adding that his education gave him confidence when he started clinicals. “I came in with lots of students from different schools, and some of them had their bachelor’s degrees in nursing. I found that the nursing staff members at the hospital like Panola College students because they are well-prepared and eager to help.”

Tedra Parker is one of the new ADN students this fall. She just completed her Associate Degree from Kilgore College this summer, and can’t wait to get started with the Panola College ADN classes. The 2006 graduate of Longview High School explains her pathway to Panola.

"I was a teen mom. I have three children, ages five, six and nine, so I got a late start,” she said. “I love babies, and I want to work in pediatric nursing or OB Gyn. I’m doing this because I like to care for children, and I want to better my life for my family.”

Article and Photos courtesy of Teresa Beasley