In August 2016, Victor Silguero set out for Dallas while many of his Baylor friends returned to Waco to resume classes and other activities.
He continued north on I-35 to begin his junior year as a nursing student at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing (LHSON) in downtown Dallas.
“I started at Baylor as an engineering major,” Silguero says. “Then in one of my quiet times with the Lord, I heard Him speak nursing to my heart, but at that time I had no clue what a nurse did or whether I would be good at it.”
Following a conversation with the resident chaplain in Allen Hall where he lived, Silguero felt “this insane amount of peace” about his new path and officially changed his major the next day.
Silguero, now a senior, made the transition from Baylor in Waco to the University’s Dallas campus, but he isn’t alone. Silguero was a member of a record-setting LHSON cohort of 119 students in fall 2016—a record that was broken this year.
Thousands of students have made a similar segue during their undergraduate experience. Seventy percent of LHSON’s students begin at Baylor’s Waco campus as pre-nursing majors while the rest come from other accredited colleges and universities. The pre-nursing major at Baylor is structured in such a way that students move forward only as they meet specific academic requirements and within a set amount of time. All students must apply to LHSON and typically do so during their sophomore year. Once accepted, they become nursing majors and move to Dallas to complete two years of demanding upper-division professional coursework and innovative clinical experiences.
The nursing school’s location in Dallas—a nationally recognized healthcare hub—is advantageous for many reasons. And intentional community-building efforts and dedicated staff provide a sense of familiarity and belonging while at the same time prepare students for working in a hospital or other clinical setting, where teamwork is vital to patient outcomes.
“The community in the nursing school is unparalleled,” Silguero says. “The leadership, faculty and staff steward an atmosphere of faith and foster a true sense of community. It’s all grounded in encouragement, realizing that we rely on each other as one big team.”
Undergraduates gain academically and professionally from their time living and working in Dallas. Nursing School faculty and staff have invested in developing ways to connect students with each other and the Baylor experience.
“My transition was a little nerve-wracking,” admits Silguero, who expects to graduate in May 2018. “I had to leave a lot of the friendships I had developed in Waco. I didn’t really know what to expect. One of the biggest challenges [in transitioning to LHSON] is understanding that you are still part of Baylor University, and at the same time, you are also part of something else happening in Dallas.”
Students maintain those long-distance friendships by visiting Waco on weekends and using such 21st-century avenues as FaceTime and Skype. Meanwhile in Dallas, LHSON students form new friendships and spend a great deal of time together in class, clinical rounds and in study groups. Many students also choose to live in the same apartment complexes close to the LHSON.
“Baylor in Waco did a great job of making students from any major feel welcome and a part of the family,” says Brennan Bassett, RN ’17, an emergency room nurse at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. “But, I dare say LHSON in Dallas worked harder at creating intentional community and that family feeling because we all had the same classes, we all felt that the staff wanted us to succeed. There was more of a ‘family’ feeling in Dallas because we spent more time together in and out of class and at sporting events and in social clubs.”
Parents continue to be part of the support network available to Baylor students who have transitioned to Dallas; the LHSON Parents Network organizes events and activities, including Parents in Prayer sessions each month of the academic year. They also hold large-scale new-student and new-parent cookouts every year during orientation. They coordinate a breakfast each semester to encourage students as they enter into the finals stretch.
A three-day orientation, the New Student Experience, is critical in providing a clearer idea of what their junior and senior years of college will look like in nursing.
“Orientation is obviously about making new LHSON students feel welcome and a part of this place as they make that transition from Waco to Dallas, but so much of it is setting them up for the unique factors that are going to impact their time here and the necessary academic adjustments,” says Kendra Campbell, LHSON Coordinator of Academic Success. “For instance, testing in the field of nursing is fairly different than the midterms they may have taken on campus in Waco. All of our exams are online. We’re replicating what they have to do for their licensure exam.”
“This is a professional school. Students have to make a professional adjustment in their university experience.”
Campbell advises, coordinates tutoring, follows up on academic referrals from faculty and connects students with resources and services to help them be successful. She and the student success team work with nursing students individually to help them make adjustments so they can be successful. Improving test-taking skills is a particular area of emphasis because testing in nursing school is a markedly different experience.
In the nursing field, Campbell says, testing emphasizes the application of information rather than simply recalling facts. Rather than, “Identify the correct diagnosis based on the following symptoms,” it’s “What are you going to do for the patient if he or she presents with the following symptoms?”
Part of Campbell’s responsibility—and that of all teaching faculty at LHSON—is to ensure that nursing students understand the ethical and professional expectations of the nursing profession; and to help them make that transition not only from Waco to Dallas, but from a strictly-classroom learning environment to one where students are in the field, meeting real patients and putting their knowledge to work.
“This is a professional school. Students have to make a professional adjustment in their university experience,” Campbell says. “For instance, there are board of nursing standards that they’re required to meet and to abide by which will be part of licensure requirements. We try to prepare them for what that looks and feels like and duplicate that kind of environment, training them for what it looks like to be a nurse working in a hospital or clinic.”
During orientation before classes begin, incoming LHSON students are assigned to their first clinical group. This allows them to become acquainted and build critical relationships. By week nine, ideally, these teams are almost like families, each heading into the hospital setting with their dedicated clinical instructor.
“The first time you go into a room to visit with a patient, it’s a little scary,” Campbell says. “You’re thinking, ‘Can I do this? Will I know what to say?’ For these clinical groups to engage one another early, know each other and have those alliances as they transition into a professional environment is powerful.”
Orientation days also include a hospital tour to show students their classrooms, where they will do clinical rounds, where they can go if they need to get immunizations updated and the best places to grab lunch.
“Another thing we do—students have to be in a particular uniform when they’re in labs and doing clinical rounds,” Campbell says. “They wear standard scrubs which they order through the bookstore, but there are other expectations that have to do with patient safety, like not wearing jewelry or not wearing shoes that have mesh. So, we put on a little fashion show to indicate what you can wear and what you can’t.”
Like Baylor students in Waco, LHSON students may participate in student government. Each cohort nominates candidates and elects a president, vice president and social chair. Silguero was nominated by his class and voted president for his cohort. His role is running regular leadership meetings, liaising between faculty, administrators and students and working with student services to plan events and build community within and across cohorts. Student-organized events have included trips to American Airlines Center to watch a Dallas Stars hockey game and a Mavericks basketball game.
The Baylor Student Nurses Association (BSNA) plays an integral role in providing student nurses the opportunity to serve and learn more about the nursing profession. Members are active in local, state and national student nurse association meetings.
“The BSNA will bring in professionals in the industry to talk about different aspects of nursing,” Campbell says. “For instance, they might bring in a traveling nurse to talk about that profession as students might want to consider that specialty. They have a strong partnership with the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas where they serve—maybe they do a craft with children and families who are staying there while receiving treatment.”
In spring 2017, BSNA students partnered with Baylor engineering students to design a special, therapeutic swing for use by pediatric patients at the Ronald McDonald House. The group also facilitates a number of social events among nursing students like dodgeball tournaments or popsicles on the back patio at LHSON.
“After moving to Dallas, I have been able to find such a great source of community through the nursing school,” says Susie Wahl, BSNA president. “Being involved with the school and the BSNA, I have been able to meet other nursing students that I wish I had known throughout all my years at Baylor. I have been able to serve the Dallas community alongside other Baylor students and nursing school faculty. Even though I am in a different city, I still feel very connected to my Baylor home.”
LHSON’s faculty work to provide an environment that integrates faith and academic excellence. They are researchers, authors, national award winners, presidents of national organizations, former missionaries, administrators and experts in their specialties—all of whom support student success inside and outside the classroom.
“A lot of our professors also went to LHSON, so it is a privilege to talk to them about their Baylor journey as well,” Wahl says.
Faculty advise, act as mentors, and encourage and guide students throughout their education and beyond.
Silguero says faculty are always willing to listen, even to issues and concerns that are not about the subject they teach. Many arrive early and stay after class for questions. A group of faculty and staff meet together regularly and pray for their students.
“They desire to build relationships among and with their students, as soon-to-be colleagues in the nursing practice,” Silguero says.
Similar to the Waco campus, LHSON provides a robust set of student services. Students have access to comprehensive and varied opportunities for intellectual, social, cultural, spiritual and emotional development. Notably, Baylor nursing students also enjoy access to the Tom Landry Health and Wellness Center, a fitness and rehabilitation facility typically reserved for Medical Center staff and patients, providing an amenity much like the McLane Student Life Center in Waco.
“Our faculty are training our nursing students to care for the whole person,” Campbell says. “Not just the physical needs, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a patient. And our student services team takes the same approach in serving our students. It’s not just about school. They are people and they have life going on, and we are working to help them manage both.”
Spiritual life is a cornerstone to the student experience, with a chaplain and a coordinator of campus ministry organizing opportunities for worship, Bible studies, weekly lunches and small groups. Also, nursing majors may participate in dozens of mission trips. Opportunities in Hong Kong, India, Zambia, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, Uganda and Peru beckon talented student nurses to share their skills on medical mission trips and academic study abroad trips.
During summer 2017, LHSON sponsored three mission trips—two to India with six students each and one to Zambia with 12 students. Closer to home, students volunteer with Cornerstone Ministry, Bon Ton Farms and Dallas LIFE.
Through a partnership with Sparrow House Counseling, students have access to locally based counseling services. The spiritual, academic and counseling support help students navigate through the challenging nursing coursework.
“Even if they are doing fine academically, so much of their education involves difficult topics,” Campbell says. “They are serving people at their most vulnerable. They have to face end-of-life situations. They have patients battling things like cancer or mental illness. Those are difficult for people to go through. And to be facing that at 22? That can be overwhelming and the reality of those situations plays out every day. There is a heavy weight to learn and do well because it will impact another person.”
Much of the work in this student services office is rooted in success in the LHSON beyond academics. Sometimes classes are not the biggest stressors for students.
“They’re so willing to listen and understand what’s going on in our lives,” Silguero says. “They care very deeply about our success and seeing us grow as nurses and individuals and as Christians.”
Since its inception in 1909 as one of Texas’ first nursing programs, LHSON has prepared thousands of baccalaureate and graduate-level nurses by integrating faith with learning for professional practice, healthcare leadership and worldwide service. The Baylor name is synonymous with excellence in healthcare, and it is this reason that hospitals across the state have partnered with LHSON to educate and train the next generation of nurses.
Broadly, the DFW Metroplex provides numerous opportunities for student nurses. The LHSON partners with 292 clinics and agencies—200 of which are located in the Metroplex—for clinical rotations where Baylor nursing students help implement hands-on holistic care for patients.
“We work alongside doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and so many others when we attend clinicals at the various hospitals in the DFW Metroplex,” Christine Kim, Baylor nursing student, says. “We become professionals starting day one, and we’re held to high standards, but it pays off when we get job offers from hospitals before graduating.”
Indeed, the LHSON degree is highly valued in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: 90 percent of graduates land a job at one of several highly regarded hospitals in the area.
“Baylor and LHSON molded and shaped the person I am to be the nurse I am today,” Bassett says. “Do I feel prepared to thrive in a 150-bed ER of a county hospital that sees an average of 650 patients a day in Dallas? Yes. Did being in Dallas further my career by gaining experience with the several large healthcare systems working outside of school? Yes.”
Keith Hatfield, BSN ’16, is also a nurse at Parkland Hospital and says the preparation he received as an LHSON student set him apart from other rookie nurses in many ways.
“I felt apprehensive about starting my nursing career, but not long after I started working, I realized that I was more prepared than my fellow novice nurses from other schools,” Hatfield says. “I didn't realize it while I was in school, but after I graduated and I started to compare myself and the other LHSON grads to students hired out of other schools, I realized that there wasn't much comparison. The knowledge and clinical skills taught by the LHSON faculty are second to none in the DFW area. I had four job offers before I graduated, so I had no problem finding my first job. I feel Baylor’s reputation helped me progress through the application and hiring process.”
Adding to the valuable experience gained in local hospitals, LHSON students also score significantly higher than the national average on standardized nursing licensure and certification exams, and many graduates have served with distinction around the world in all areas of the medical field, mission field and branches of the United States military.
Baylor freshman Meghan Casteel is at the beginning of her nursing journey and says that Dallas seems far away, chronologically speaking. She declared her major with uncommon confidence following an impactful mission trip in summer 2016.
“I chose pre-nursing partly because I believe nursing is an underrated profession that makes a huge difference in the world,” Casteel says. “Last summer I went on a mission trip to Albania, and I found absolute joy and peace by helping this particular community. I don’t see myself as a full-time missionary, but I believe that I can do the same kind of work through nursing. Nursing is all about serving others, and, who knows, maybe one day I will get the opportunity to take my skills overseas.”
Dean Shelley F. Conroy, EdD, MS, RN, CNE, says the school’s tradition of integrating faith and academic excellence helps students realize their calling through LHSON’s mission statement and motto: Learn. Lead. Serve.
“From the adventure of the mission field to an exciting student life and innovative classroom experience, Baylor nursing students find their life changed in ways they never expected as they pursue a lifetime calling to make a genuine difference,” Conroy says. “Our legacy of caring is also blessed with distinguished recognition we received by U.S. News & World Report for 2018 and 2017 Best Graduate School rankings plus 2017 Best Online Graduate Program rankings.”