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Putting Life To The Test

Jan. 18, 2005

kemp When Pauline Johnson first met Anna Hilton, she was impressed with Hilton's organizational skills. Who wouldn't be? Hilton, a mother of five -- ages 9 to 20 -- was working full time for the Dallas Independent School District, juggling kids' sports practices and piano recitals, finding time to spend with her husband, Rick, and recently had completed her undergraduate degree at Texas Woman's University. Hilton was coordinating a project that Johnson was working on with the school district when they met, and Johnson remembers, "Anna came to all the meetings totally prepared."

Soon after their meeting, Hilton approached Johnson, professor and director of Baylor's graduate nursing program at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, about getting a master's degree in Advanced Nursing Leadership from the School. "I was impressed that here was an older person who was interested in going to graduate school, and I thought she would make an incredible teacher," Johnson says. Hilton enrolled in the program in 2002.

"I think sometimes older adults are hesitant to return to school because they don't think they'll have the skills that it takes or because it's been so long since they went to school," Hilton says. "I was worried, but being a mature adult -- having raised a family and lived for a while -- helped me to navigate the environment better. I had a better sense of organization and of how to prioritize."

Hilton says that balancing family and campus life was a challenge. "When you're trying to balance home and school, you have to accept the fact that neither one is going to be perfect. Your house is never really clean, and your course assignments are never really completed the way you would like them to be." With the support of her husband and children, Hilton used two dry erase boards, a wall calendar, a personal digital assistant and "enormous amounts of time on the cell phone" to stay organized and in touch with family members.

As a graduate student, she served as a patient care coordinator in Baylor's Asthma Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center and graduate assistant to Johnson, who was preparing a study on asthma in elementary school children. "It was obvious to me that Christ is the center of her life," Johnson says. "Anna demonstrates incredible faith and trust in the Lord and love and patience with her colleagues. She is truly a remarkable woman and was a great fit for Baylor."

Despite her reservations, Hilton graduated from the two-year program last May with a 4.0 GPA and now is a lecturer in the School of Nursing with an office adjacent to Johnson's. Hilton teaches Community and Culture, two sections of medical surgical clinical rotations and one nursing skills lab.

"Her counsel with students is excellent," Johnson says. "She is doing fun and creative things with the students in her classes, and I'm sure they are enjoying it. She's an incredibly motivated person."

The University's nursing program is unique, Johnson says, because it combines top-notch education with an emphasis on spirituality. "I teach a course in leadership. I have the students evaluate and analyze all aspects of everything we teach in that course based on what Jesus would do," she says. "We have a Christ-based foundation. ... It's a kinder, gentler person that can still make important decisions, but from a Christian perspective."

Baylor's graduate nursing program began in 1990 with input from chief nursing officers in Dallas, Waco and surrounding communities. Through the years, the program has been fine-tuned to meet student demand and community needs. In addition to the Advanced Nursing Leadership track Hilton completed, other graduate programs include Advanced Neonatal Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner. A joint bachelor's/master's track for those with associate's degrees in nursing also is available.

"The Advanced Nursing Leadership program gives students an overview but also prepares them to move into any leadership roles they may be offered," Johnson says. The demand for nurses is evident in rising enrollment numbers. In its first year, the graduate nursing program had 10 students; it now has 44. A total of 91 students have graduated in the last 11 years, and Hilton was one of 17 who received a diploma this year.

From Hilton's viewpoint, the School of Nursing offers many benefits. "I had numerous opportunities to learn from and collaborate with many gifted nurse educators. I realized I was standing side by side with people I wanted to emulate. These people were modeling things I wanted: professionalism, wisdom, integrity, commitment to lifelong learning through scholarship. They made me feel welcome and helped me to see that I have something to contribute, not only to my profession, but to the world I live in."

Nursing graduate students must complete 250 hours of residency, which Hilton fulfilled working about 16 hours a week for Janet Moll, vice president of clinical services to the Visiting Nurse Association in downtown Dallas. Hilton still works for the VNA as a special projects coordinator when she's not teaching.

She also continues to work with Johnson as they seek to publish the asthma research they collaborated on in the DISD and the Baylor Asthma Center last year. The 15-month study, funded by Glaxo Smith Kline, was based on a random sample of children with the respiratory disease in 19 inner-city Dallas public schools.

Although the study's methodology is scientific, Hilton's interest in it is more than academic. "Many times, children with asthma are not functioning at their best physically, so it can be difficult for them to learn. We see this especially among minorities and people of low economic status. Barriers to adequate healthcare make it especially difficult for these individuals to receive adequate treatment for asthma," she says. She hopes that awareness of the problem will help ameliorate it.

Hilton would like to pursue a doctorate in public health with asthma research and elementary education as her research interests, but says she'll do it more slowly: "I'd like to have more chances to be with my kids," she says.

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