In recent months there has been renewed discussion of the place of the professional nursing degree at liberal arts colleges, although as far back as 2004 an excellent essay in AAC&U’s Liberal Education made a convincing case for the alignment of liberal arts and skilled nursing practice.
In that piece Mary L. Herman pointed out how contemporary health care questions and debates “demands that professional nursing education be tailored to prepare nursing students as informed, responsible, democratic citizens as well as empowered, competent, compassionate professional nurses.”
These concerns remain at the forefront of the conversation in our own day and point to the ever-increasing value of broad-based liberal arts training to professional success and patient well-being. At private sector Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, for example, associate professor of nursing (and Luther alumna) Dr. La Donna McGohan has written that today’s nursing professionals “are asked more than ever before to lead groups and create change, analyze research and data, and write scientifically and persuasively.” After full-time nurses become more comfortable in their professional setting, it is the graduates with a liberal arts background who begin to distinguish themselves, “more confidently addressing the complexity, ambiguity and rapid change inherent in practice.”
Fifteen of COPLAC’s 29 public sector campuses now offer the BSN, while two more offer pre-nursing programs leading to the BSN in partnership with other state institutions. Each of these institutions practices and affirms the position outlined in that 2002 AAC&U article.
Of course clinical training, practice, and affiliations with community and regional hospitals remain strong at these campuses. In October 2015, for example, Henderson State University’s Department of Nursing was recognized by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing for its excellent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for new nurses. Between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, 100 percent of Henderson’s nursing graduates passed the NCLEX.
But in addition to clinical excellence, the nursing programs at COPLAC campuses emphasize the importance of liberal arts skills in action. At Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, for example, the major provides students “with the essential skills necessary to develop intellectual curiosity” in addition to clinical judgment and therapeutic training. Graduates demonstrate clinical judgment “through the application of theories, concepts and research from the scientific, humanistic, and nursing disciplines.”
Similarly, professional nursing education at Georgia College “incorporates concepts and theories from the humanities and the natural, social, and behavioral sciences throughout the curriculum.”
The mission statement of the nursing program at Ramapo College aims to graduate professionals who are also “citizens of the world.” A key goal of the BSN program at Ramapo is “to expose our students to diverse societies, offer them opportunities to expand their worlds, change their lives, and shape their futures as leaders of global healthcare.”
And at Sonoma State University, where over the past 40 years some 40,000 nurse practitioners have received their training, the core values of the program continue to emphasize “lifelong learning, nursing with a broad cultural perspective, and the development of professional leadership and active citizenship.”
Placement rates for BSN graduates are strong across North America as the need for healthcare professionals continues to expand alongside an aging demographic. But it is the confluence of humanistic understanding with applied practice that strengthens patient-practitioner empathy and understanding in an otherwise impersonal health care setting. And it is in this setting, perhaps more than most, where thoughtful engagement with life’s big questions– the essence of the liberal arts– really matters.
*Photos contributed by Mansfield University and Ramapo College of New Jersey.