Season 4 - Episode 438
COVID-19 has further highlighted need for nurses who fill a critical care role in a public health crisis. Dr. Linda Plank is a 30-year nursing veteran and longtime educator who was named Dean of Baylor’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing (LHSON) this spring. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Plank discusses the impact of the pandemic on nursing and nursing education, examines the growth of Baylor nursing and shares what makes LHSON distinct in higher education.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and our guest today is Dr. Linda Plank. Dr. Plank serves as Dean of Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing. A Baylor graduate, and a long time Louise Herrington School of Nursing faculty member and administrator, Dr. Plank served as interim Dean before receiving the full-time role after a nationwide search last spring. Prior to joining the school of nursing, she served as a nurse and nursing administrator at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas advancing to the role of vice president for medical and surgical nursing before returning her alma mater in 2008. In addition to her role as Dean, she will continue to teach Baylor Nursing students as a clinical associate professor leading the school of nursing in a very busy and exciting time in the life of the school. And Dr. Plank, it's great to have you on the program to talk more about that. Thanks so much for joining us.
Linda Plank:Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, as we were talking off the air, you were saying today is a great day. And certainly when you think about your students, the role they can play now and in the future is so important. So any direction you want to go, could you just take us inside the beginning of the fall 2021 semester at the school of nursing? What's your enjoying what's most meaningful and the opportunities that you're able to engage in as a group there?
Linda Plank:Great. Well, yes, we love this fall because our students are back in our building, making all the joyous noise that we love to hear. And the students really wanting to be back face to face. It was a really hard 18 months for a lot of them to not have the camaraderie that they're used to, not be around their faculty in a face-to-face setting and to not see their friends and study with their friends and do all the things that they like to do. So that has started again for us, and we enjoy that very, very much. It just feels like it's right to have the nursing students here on a daily basis, getting their studies done and all of them are so eager to become nurses and be out there helping patients for the rest of their lives. So we're fortunate to have the best students in the whole world. I can justify that from all kinds of angles and COVID has actually helped get nursing a little bit attention that was probably well-deserved for decades, but didn't happen until the pandemic made it such that almost everybody has now known someone hospitalized or everyone has had a personal experience with a nurse because of the pandemic. So now people are looking at nursing as a little bit more of something that has happened to them rather than something that happens to everyone else. So we're thrilled that there has been attention, positive attention toward the nursing profession. Many areas have had parades and cars driving around their hospitals and honking their horns and having balloons and sometimes firetrucks join them. But I believe that that attention to nursing will only benefit us as a nursing school. We hear that 8% of enrollment is up at all nursing schools throughout the United States, and we have to think it's COVID related. So that's a wonderful thing. Everyone knows we've been in a nursing shortage and we need more nurses. So if COVID has helped us get more nursing students kind of shifted our way that we'll end up with a positive response for the world after they've finished nursing school.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Something good to come out of all this for sure. And you mentioned COVID-19, obviously the last, what 16, 18 months or so have provided no shortage of real world experience. So whether it's an actual hands-on experience or teaching opportunities, and certainly for you and your faculty navigating this along with your students. What are some of the ways that the school of nursing faculty and students have navigated this together? Not just as a community there, but with area medical organizations. I know we had Lyn Prater on in the spring talking about the vaccination. It's down here in Waco. So I know there's a lot of ways you're engaging in that.
Linda Plank:That's true. And I think that if we were to sit back and try to plan the best experience for our students to explain to them what population health is all about, we couldn't have done a better job than where COVID actually put us in an unplanned circumstance. So yes, we want all of our nurses to be aware that besides jobs in hospitals and jobs in clinics, that we have a whole world that needs help. We have a lot of global initiatives going here at the nursing school, but we also need to be looking across the whole community and trying to keep people well, versus waiting until they get sick end up in the hospital and that are taken care of by a nurse. So prevention is a major, major goal of all health care providers. And we were able to see that firsthand in the last 16 to 18 minutes when we now know what a pandemic is like to live, actually go through it ourselves. So that experience has led our nursing students realize that there are some things that you can't fix my hospitalization stay. And there's some things you can't fix by just having your once a year doctor's appointment. There are some things that are really beyond your control, like pandemics. And for them to be able to participate, like you did share, Lyn Prater and several of our faculty took groups of students, not only to Waco, but mainly to Waco to give the vaccinations. They were also at several other places here in the Dallas area. That gave the nursing students firsthand experience on how you can do a huge initiative like vaccine clinics. Some of them were given to hundreds and thousands of patients a day. And I think our students just now realize that that's what it would take. If we did have true medical emergency, like a pandemic, it's all hands on deck, it's everybody doing their part and it really does take a huge coordinated effort from the different agencies that we work with. So even though it wasn't planned in advance, they got to see exactly what it would take to take care of a whole community when we have something unexpected happen like COVID-19.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Linda Plank at Dean of Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing and you mentioned Dallas. I'm talking to you from Waco, you're in Dallas, and that's where the Louise Herrington School of Nursing campus is. So tell us a little bit about how the physical location in Dallas is able to impact students and what that means for students in terms of their service and the environment that they're in there.
Linda Plank:Okay. Well, the nursing school has always been in Dallas. There are many people that think we started out on the Waco campus and sometime in the last 112 years, we moved to Dallas. But we've always been in Dallas. So Baylor hospital that's right across the street, but we sit on the campus of Baylor University Medical Center started in 1903 and six years later, they decided they needed a nursing school. And that's the way nursing schools happened way back in the early 1900s. So in 1909, they hired people to train as nurses and that became a diploma program for Baylor hospital. So from 1909 to about 1948, we were a diploma program here in Dallas, learning on the jobs. It was on the job training like most nursing schools were at that time. In 1948, we started talking about becoming a baccalaureate program and we needed two more years of education. And therefore, the Waco campus was the best partnership there. Our students since 1948 had two years of nursing school on the Waco campus where they get mainly their prerequisites. So it is a liberal arts education with English and the biologies and all the things that they need to prepare them for nursing school. And then they come to Dallas for the last two years where the nursing school is. So we would love to be closer to Waco, but because we have so many great clinical sites in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it really is necessary for us to stay here. If we were on the Waco campus, we could go to Hillcrest or Providence, or maybe the VA, but we would not be able to have the same number of students as we would like to have and as we have now, and that's because of the wonderful clinical sites that we're partners with in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. So for some of the students, it's a little disappointing that they don't have the full four year experience on the Waco campus. And for others, it's kind of like, "Well, when I get to nursing school, I'm really going to have to spend a lot of time study. So it might be better if I didn't have events to go to every single night and every single weekend." So everybody really figures out what works best for them and we do try to work with our freshmen nursing students when they first hit the Waco campus to let them know what that four years is going to be like. Before the pandemic hit, we actually brought up eight or nine buses of students in their freshmen first semester, freshman year to Dallas so they could see our buildings, see the Baylor Hospital and also see a little bit about downtown Dallas. And then it kind of switched from, "I have to go to Dallas in two years," to, "I get to go to Dallas in two years," if they can anticipate what their last two years was going to be like. So I think that that was a good move on our part with COVID and some of the restrictions we have now, we are doing the same thing, but in small groups. So every Friday afternoon students that are in their freshmen semester, first semester in Waco, are invited to come up in carloads or however they feel comfortable driving and we do the same tour with them. We show them our building, we show them the hospital, we show them downtown Dallas a little bit, how close they'll be to [inaudible] some of the exciting things we have here in Dallas. And then they can kind of visualize for the next two years, what their junior and senior year is going to be like. So we plan on doing that, but we asked the students every year, "Is there another way we can bridge that 96 mile gap between Dallas and Waco that would make you feel more comfortable starting your education in Waco, and then finishing your education in Dallas?" And any feedback they have, any suggestions they have, we do take them up on it to try to make sure that experience is as seamless as possible, because we do want them to have the full Baylor experience. We just can't do it in two years. So we do work with them on trying to get all of that good old Baylor stuff that in two years, and then come up here and we continue the traditions, like the Dr. Pepper floats up here and some of the things that they were used to on the Waco campus. So we make it as close to home as possible for them.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. And it seems obvious to me there's a lot of great opportunities for students in DFW and a great Baylor family up there in the metroplex as well as we visit with Dr. Linda Plank. And Dr. Plank, we talk about the Baylor family. You've been part of it for a good portion of your life, going back to your days as a student. So I'm curious for you, how did your days as a Baylor student, what stands out to you about that time and how did it prepare you looking back for the career and the calling that you've served?
Linda Plank:Okay. Well, the church that I grew up in, almost all the students went to Baylor. So I'm not even sure I knew that there were any other schools out there when it got time to consider a college. My sister had actually started in Baylor, graduated in 1971 and went to Baylor. So when I was going to graduate from high school... I meant to say high school. But when I graduated from high school in 1973, it was just the natural transition for me. So I was on the Waco campus like our students typically are in '73 and '74, and then came to the nursing school here in Dallas in '75 and '76 and graduated in spring of '77. So I don't think at that time I thought I would stay in Dallas. I kind of had this idea that maybe I would stay at the big hospital, that we did a lot of our training in for a year, and then maybe I'd find a smaller hospital to go to. And 33 years later, I was still at that large hospital. So it wasn't because of a very definite plan. But I did work at Baylor Hospital my junior year in nursing school as a nurse tech and then I did [inaudible] there as a nurse assistant my senior year. So it was kind of a logical thing for me to take my first RN job at Baylor University Medical Center right across the street. And I'll just have to say every opportunity was just totally God led. I don't remember having too many times that I sat down and say, "Well, what I want to do next year?" The opportunities just kind of came. And many, many times I was moved from one position to the other without even a formal interview because it felt like it was a job that I could do and that they needed me in. So I really just kind of progressed from a staff nurse, to a supervisor, to a manager, to administrative supervisor and then assistant vice president and vice-president because there was a need and I had a willingness to do that. So not a lot of planning in that, but a lot of opportunities that came my way through God and just listening to where he needed me and what I needed to be doing to follow his guidance all the way through my life.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We're visiting with Dr. Linda Plank, Dean of Baylor's University Louise Herrington School of Nursing. And Dr. Plank, you obviously were able to lead and serve in a number of ways for three decades at Baylor University Medical Center. But in 2008, you made a pivot. You came to teach on the faculty at Baylor. What drew you to that role? What was it that made you say, "This is a direction I want to go now."
Linda Plank:I actually thought I was retiring and the very first phone call I received after my announcement went out on one Friday that after 33 years of working at Baylor, I was retiring. The phone call was from our Dean here at the nursing school, that was I interested in a faculty position. And I pretty much clarified that retiring means not working, but she just said, "Well, if you even think about it part-time, make sure and give us a call." And I think at that point my to-do list for retirement was getting longer and longer and I was eager to have those days that I could do some of the things on that list. But then some of the faculty here started calling and we had a new program starting that June, June of 2009 and that's our FastBacc program, that is a one-year accelerated program. So for these students, they already a baccalaureate degree in anything and they have the prerequisites that our traditional students have. And they finished their two years of nursing school in one year. And that program was about to launch. And two of the faculty that were working on that program needed somebody to help them get out of their previous assignments so they could move on to this new, exciting, accelerated FastBacc program. So one of the faculty members really kind of guilted me into it and just basically said, "We have two graduate students that if you don't teach them budget and finance, they're not going to be able to graduate with their cohort." And so I said, "Well, budget finance has kind of what I've been doing for the last 25 years over at the hospital. Certainly I could teach two students budget and finance." So I started out that summer teaching two students, budget and finance. They were actually graduate students. And really by the fall, by the time August got here, I wanted to be on the schedule full-time. I'd already fallen in love with the students and knew that there was so much excitement as they learn from you. And those aha moments that we talk about a lot, that when the knowledge just goes from the faculty to the student and the student's so excited about it. And by then I knew that our Baylor students were just really, really unique and that they had a heart to help people the rest of their lives. So when the fall came and I was on the schedule for four courses, not one course, I did feel like that that was God leading me here to the nursing school back full circle from where I had started and that the next steps in my life was to help nursing students.
Derek Smith:Talking with Dr. Linda Plank. And I guess the rest, as they say is history now as you have assumed the role of Dean at Louise Herrington School of Nursing. And Dr. Plank, I'm curious, as we talk about what makes the school distinct and unique. If someone stopped you on the street or a friend at church or whomever and said they had a daughter, or a son, or a friend who was interested in pursuing nursing in college and wanted to know a little bit more about Baylor and Louise Herrington School of Nursing. What are some of the first things that would come to mind that you'd share with them about why Baylor is a great place?
Linda Plank:Okay, well, as a private school, we don't have some of the restrictions that our state schools have as far as blending the faith that our students mainly have and that all of our faculty have with their education. So we all know there's restrictions in state schools of trying to keep religion separate from the education and in nursing that's almost impossible because when you're dealing with a patient, you can't help but recognize that there's more than their physical side. Their emotional side, their spiritual side, their mental side, all have so much to do with how their physical body is reacting and is doing in the healing process or in the disease process. So at Baylor, we're allowed to talk about that as we teach about the different things. And we only hire Christian faculty. So every faculty member is looking at that patient, not as just a leg, or a heart, or a shoulder, but the whole person and recognizing that sometimes some of the illnesses that we deal with are from a spiritual warfare or a mental health issue, or just an emotional situation. So since we can teach that to our students, they become very aware that every patient that they're looking at might have something more than just the physical illness, and they can investigate that a little bit more, they can pray with the patients a little bit more than others schools can. And they also can really pray for that patient themselves and really see how they can get to what is bothering that patient and how they can become the best caregiver for that patient. So what we hear from others all the time is their caring and compassion is extremely elevated at the nursing school here, than with our other nursing schools. And we've got great nursing schools in the DFW area. I don't want it to sound like I'm criticizing any of them, but besides that greatness, we're allowed to say, "Now let's look at it from a humanistic standpoint and is there a way that we could help this person realize that maybe their [inaudible] their stomach problems are not all related to their stomach, that maybe it's a nervous issue, or maybe it's an anxiety issue, or maybe they're not right where the Lord wants them to be and they really need to put their spiritual life in correct shape." So that helps us to really look at all the patients holistically, teach our students that way. And I think it benefits the patients greatly.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Linda Plank. And Dr. Plank, if someone asked you about the students you get to serve, you've bragged on them a little bit already, but what are you most excited to share with people about the students with whom you get to serve and lead and interact every day?
Linda Plank:Okay. We have the best students and I tell the parents it's because we have the best parents. So we were very much supported by our parents of the students and the parents network that we have up here. And just all the wonderful support we have in Dallas for women's council and different groups. But I think our students all come to us with a really good foundation and then we build on that foundation. And I'm not saying our students don't have any problems that the typical 18-22 year olds have, but I do know that most of them have already decided that they want to spend the rest of their life caring for people that may not be in as good a shape as they are financially, spiritually, physically. So they come to us with a caring heart, knowing that they want to do whatever it takes to really make people's lives better from now on. And then we build on that the two years that we're here by the experiences that most of our faculty have had as they have served as nurses and dealing with patients. And by the time you get a really good student with a really good faculty, you produce a really, really good nurse. So we're really proud of the product that we've created for 112 years. And I think it's only getting better and better every year.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Linda Plank. And Dr. Plank, as we head into the final couple of moments here on the program, when I ask you, as you serve in your first full year as a full-time Dean of Louise Herrington School of Nursing, and as you look to the future, what are you most excited about? What's special about the opportunity to serve Louise Herrington School of Nursing at this particular time and what are you most excited about opportunities to seize or initiatives to take part in as you look ahead?
Linda Plank:Okay, well, we have had a tremendous, wonderful history. The whole 112 years that we've had a nursing school we've really been blessed and we've really had a lot of great things happen to us. But now we know that there's a huge need for more nurses and more nurse practitioners in the world. And we've been in a nursing shortage since the 1990s. It has not gone away in all these years. And we know that there's many, many reasons for that. But our growth here is to try to fulfill all those needs that are out there for new nurses and new nurse practitioners. So we've had tremendous support from Baylor University, that if we need more faculty to get more students, we've been able to do that. So we've had some fantastic faculty that have applied and have joined our ranks in the last two or three years as we've had this huge growth spurt coming. So just as a real brief summary, when I came, we had 600 students and that was our Waco students, our Dallas students in a very small graduate program. We have 1700 today-
Linda Plank:... and that's tremendous growth and we are projected to hit about 2,400 by the year 2024. So it takes a lot of resources to do that. And we really want the growth to be the same quality program we've always had just more of it. So the tremendous faculty that have come our way and the support from the university really have helped us do the same thing we've been doing, but on a much higher volume. And also, to be able to say that, "Yes, we are going to make a difference." Many, many people say, "We need more nurses." And I say, "We need more Baylor nurses." And I think that that is really what's going to make a difference in healthcare in the future.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, when you tell those numbers you can really see Baylor doing its part to address those shortages and send out nurses who treat the whole person. So I thank you so much for taking the time to share with us, we're excited to hear more stories from your students and faculty as they navigate a COVID-19, it's after effects together, and certainly proud to see all the ways they're serving. So thanks so much for taking the time to share.
Linda Plank:Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Dr. Linda Plank, Dean of Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.