Faculty in UL's College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions have one of the best work environments in the nation.

From left, Dr. Gail Poirrier, dean of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, and  Dr. Melinda Oberleitner, head of the Department of Nursing.

That’s the opinion of the National League for Nursing, the leading professional association for nursing education.

UL is one of only two universities in the United States that received the NLN’s prestigious Center of Excellence designation for Creating Environments that Promote Ongoing Faculty Development this year. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is the other.

Only seven nursing programs in the country have earned designations as Centers of Excellence in Nursing Education.

UL’s honor was announced in October at the NLN’s 2005 Education Summit in Baltimore, Md., which was attended by about 1,400 nursing educators.

The Center of Excellence designation, granted for three years, is particularly significant because there is a critical shortage of nursing faculty in the United States.

“The working environment is crucial to the retention and recruitment of quality faculty. This designation is a national benchmark that every nurse educator in the country will recognize,” said Dr. Melinda Oberleitner, head of the Nursing Department in UL’s College of Nursing.

Lori Fontenot, left, and Khará Jefferson use an intravenous catheter simulator, which is based on virtual reality technology, to practice giving injections.According to Oberleitner, salary is not the primary factor when a nursing educator is evaluating potential employers, although salaries have been driven up over the past several years by an acute shortage of all nurses, not just nursing faculty

“Every single one of us on this faculty could walk out the door this minute and make 50 percent to 75 percent more than we make here. None of us are here for the money. There are other factors that keep us here and the working environment is one of them,” she said.

Dr. Gail Poirrier, dean of UL’s College of Nursing, said the university’s nursing program had already earned a reputation as one of the top nursing programs in the nation because of its graduates’ pass rates for the national licensure exam for registered nurses. Over the past 20 years, 98 percent of its grads have passed the exam on the first try.

That consistent success rate reflects the high quality of the nursing faculty, she said. “When you have excellent faculty and outstanding students, there’s just a major explosion of teaching and learning that goes on.”

Nursing programs that applied for the NLN Center of Excellence designation for creating and maintaining a superior work environment for faculty were judged on several criteria, such as:

• commitment by all faculty to promote excellence in teaching, student advisement and curriculum development;
• faculty’s interest in using new teaching methods; and
• mentoring programs.

In its application, UL’s College of Nursing noted that several nursing faculty have received prestigious, university-wide, competitive teaching awards, such as the UL Foundation’s Distinguished Professor Award.

The Department of Nursing was the first department at UL to hire a full-time professional adviser to work with its students.

Oberleitner described the faculty as “early adopters. If there’s a new technology, a new technique, a new teaching methodology, they’re right there, saying ‘Let’s try it.’ Some things work and some things don’t but at least we’re willing to try them.” The college has invested about $5 million into technological advancements over the past five years.

Poirrier developed a model mentoring program at UL many years ago that the Louisiana Legislature recently voted to make mandatory for all new nursing faculty in the state as a way to help retain badly needed nurses.

Dr. Paula Broussard, an assistant professor of nursing, demonstrates the correct placement of electrocardiograph leads. An electrocardiograph is used in the investigation of heart dis- ease. Students, shown from left, are: Kim Granger, Jennifer Moore and Sarah Stagg.The dean noted that having senior faculty members mentor new colleagues has been so effective that “we expanded that mentoring into helping faculty publish, also. We guide them with their scholarly activities so that they’ll be successful with tenure, so they will be successful in moving forward, with promotions. It’s another way we help our faculty grow and develop.”

Another tool that UL’s College of Nursing has used effectively is what Oberleitner describes as “360 degree evaluations.” Faculty are evaluated by administrators, peers and students. They must also conduct a self evaluation.

“We use the same criteria that we use to evaluate our students. Those components are caring, communication and critical thinking, the things we feel are most important from our mission and goals,” she said. “In other words, are we walking the talk?”

The application for the NLN Center of Excellence designation notes that the university administration supports nursing faculty who pursue doctorates.

That’s “one of the main reasons the Department of Nursing at UL has the highest percentage of doctorally prepared faculty of any undergraduate nursing program in Louisiana,” it states. Eleven faculty have completed doctoral studies while employed at UL; four others are enrolled in doctoral programs.

The 52-page application for the NLN recognition makes it clear that the superior work environment for nursing faculty at UL is not accidental. University and college administrators took calculated steps to create it.

As a condition of receiving the award, the College of Nursing must publish a paper in at least one professional journal that explains how it achieved that goal.

Oberleitner noted that the Center of Excellence designation supports the university’s claim that it has one of the best nursing programs in the United States.

“We have a sustained track record, in terms of the outcomes of our programs. You can only have that by having high standards and standards for excellence. People want to work where there are standards, where everybody knows what the standards are and everybody knows the standard is excellence.”


First Photograph: From left, Dr. Gail Poirrier, dean of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, and Dr. Melinda Oberleitner, head of the Department of Nursing.

Second Photograph: Lori Fontenot, left, and Khará Jefferson use an intravenous catheter simulator, which is based on virtual reality technology, to
practice giving injections.

Third Photograph: Dr. Paula Broussard, an assistant professor of nursing, demonstrates the correct placement of electrocardiograph leads. An electrocardiograph is used in the investigation of heart disease. Students, shown from left, are: Kim Granger, Jennifer Moore and Sarah Stagg.

 


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