5 January, 2018
For 50 years, Gadsden State Community College has been a leader in nursing education in northeast Alabama. During this time, the College has seen a lot of changes – cutting-edge technology; a competitive program; an increase in student applications; and a rise in the number of faculty required to teach nursing practices.
In 1967, Gadsden State had a class of 11 students who were taught by two faculty members – Sister Anne Joachim Hogan and Gayle Adams Hawkins. Today, the nursing program has a total enrollment of 353 students and a faculty of 18 instructors.
“There have been many changes at Gadsden State,” said Brenda Holman, a retired nursing instructor. “During my time, campuses changed; names changed. We saw a lot of growth but, what stands out to me is how proud the community has always been of Gadsden State. We have always been a community-based school. Everyone has a connection to Gadsden State, and everyone loves Gadsden State.”
During Holman’s 31 years at Gadsden State, she worked as an instructor and program director. “Our program was always solid,” she said. “We had great leadership. We had high standards, whether it was our board scores, student success or employer reviews. We always wanted to be the best.”
Fellow instructor Connie Meloun was a member of Jacksonville State University’s first class of nursing graduates in 1972. In 1974, she earned a teaching position at Gadsden State. Three years later, she decided to become a practicing nurse, a position she held for nine months before returning to teaching at Gadsden State. Even while working as an instructor, she almost continuously had part-time nursing positions with a hospital, home healthcare company and a psychiatric center.
“I got the best of both worlds,” she said. “I got to teach nursing and work as a nurse, too. It was a win-win for me.”
Meloun was named the director of the nursing program in 1990 and worked her way to assistant dean of health sciences, a position she held for 16 years before her retirement.
“I loved teaching, and I loved being in administration,” she said. “First and foremost, I considered myself a student advocate. I was an instructor who changed my teaching style based on student learning. I wanted them to learn better so I was willing to do what it took. I didn’t just lecture. I incorporated learning activities, too.
People learn differently and I know that. I know hands-on experiences are the best for learning. They learn better by applying the information.”
Holman, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from JSU and a master’s degree from University of Alabama at Birmingham, said students are a priority and deserve a good education and fair treatment.
“There were always students who touched your heart,” she said. “There’s a mutual respect and bonding experience that happens between a nursing student and their instructor. When my students passed their boards for licensure, we became equals.”
Throughout her tenure, Holman noticed dramatic changes in technology, including advanced simulations that allowed students to experience clinical settings prior to actual patient care.
“Technology is wonderful,” she said. “The simulations are wonderful but being in a clinical setting with a patient firsthand is the best experience. Nothing can take the place of being with a patient – hearing them and seeing them. Simulations prepare them for that wonderful patient experience.”
Susan Mullins, who had a combined experience of 27 years in nursing practice and education, agreed that technology has been the biggest change in nursing.
“We have cameras and advanced communication systems and computers now,” she said. “Technology has changed the dynamics so much. I remember spending a lot of my time doing my charting. Now, it’s all done on a computer or a tablet.”
Mullins, who retired from teaching at Gadsden State in 2011, said case management has also changed due to shorter stays in the hospital.
“Nurses have to teach patients how to care for themselves before leaving the hospital,” she said. “It’s just so different now.”
Meloun has watched nursing evolve into a position that requires critical thinking.
“Nurses have to think about the problems and become problem-solvers,” she said. “It’s not just about reading a textbook. They have to assess the situation and think about what needs to be done.”
The demographics of nursing have also changed, she said.
“I have seen an increase in the number of male nurses,” Meloun said. “I maybe had one male student every couple of years but that has definitely changed. There has been a huge increase in male nurses.”
One thing has not changed in nursing education and that’s the necessity to teach with compassion and understanding. “It’s always easy to teach bright students but the wonderful challenge is the student who needs extra help,” said Holman. “I loved seeing the light come on. I loved it when they understood the lesson. Teaching the students was the greatest feeling. I did whatever I could to help them comprehend. The fun part was seeing what I could do next to make learning fun; to help even the most challenged student.”