It was not long after Claflin University launched its RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2016, that Dr. Shannon Smith believed a master's program in nursing was also possible.
"I had a vision for the program when I first arrived and it became part of the five-year strategic plan I developed in 2017," said Smith, associate professor and chair of Claflin's Department of Nursing.
Smith's vision for the future of Claflin's nursing program became a reality when the University was recently notified that its proposal to establish the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program had been approved by the Board of Trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
All classes will be offered online except for on-site clinical practicums that will be required each semester. The program is scheduled to begin during the 2021 Fall Semester. Claflin will be the only historically black college/university (HBCU) in the state of South Carolina to offer a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing. The target audience will be graduates of Claflin's RN to BSN program and other nursing professionals - throughout the United States and abroad - with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree who want to advance their careers through Claflin's innovative and student-centered curriculum.
Claflin has partnerships with several hospitals, including The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg and Prisma Health, which has several sites in South Carolina. Claflin also has a partnership with the South Carolina Technical College System that offers a seamless transfer to Claflin for registered nurses who have earned an associate degree from any one of the system's 16 schools. Claflin will aggressively market and promote the MSN program in South Carolina and beyond as a participant in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) which allows the University to promote and market its online programs in states outside of South Carolina.
"I applaud Dr. Smith, Dr. Zia Hasan, vice president for planning, assessment and information services, Dr. Karl Wright, provost/chief academic officer, and other members of the accreditation committee who worked tirelessly to secure SACSCOC approval for establishing the Master of Science in Nursing program at Claflin University," President Dwaun Warmack said. "The MSN program represents another historic milestone in the University's proud history. The success of our master's and bachelor's degree nursing programs will position Claflin among the leaders in developing and implementing solutions to the health care needs of residents of Orangeburg, Bamberg, and Calhoun counties and other rural communities."
Claflin's master's and bachelor's degree nursing programs are consistent with the University's academic mission of providing a student-centered, liberal arts education grounded in cutting-edge research, experiential learning, state-of-the-art technology, community service, and life-long personal and professional fulfillment. The nursing department aligns with Claflin's commitment to improving the lives of residents in the communities it serves and the UNCF-Carolina Cluster Career Pathway (CPI) Initiative which focuses on preparing graduates for the 21st Century workforce. It also addresses the national shortage of qualified nurses. U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data projects the demand for nursing professionals to grow by 17 percent between 2018-2028.
"The master's in nursing program at Claflin will be a viable resource for achieving health equity in Orangeburg and the neighboring counties," said Smith, whose combined experiences in nursing and higher education span more than 30 years. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Adult Health Nursing from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing.
"Orangeburg is such a large and spacious county that residents in these rural areas do not have access to high-quality health care," Smith said. "We realize that Orangeburg, Bamberg, and Calhoun counties have the lowest rankings in health outcomes among South Carolina's 46 counties. Residents of these communities have benefited significantly from the support provided by our RN to BSN students."
Nursing students from Claflin routinely participate in community health fairs to promote and help improve health outcomes for area residents. As part of the degree program, students are required to develop and implement a community project.
"One exciting example of our connection to the community occurred when a student developed a project that focused on improving exercise, nutrition, and stress management in one of the local communities," Smith said. "She persuaded a group of volunteer firefighters to serve as role models and help articulate how healthy lifestyles improve the quality of life. The student made presentations to schools, churches, and several non-profit organizations about shopping for nutritious foods and how they were delivered to rural neighborhoods. "The firefighters were happy because they shed a few pounds and residents of the community learned valuable lessons about food and nutrition."
Smith believes that when the MSN program begins, their community engagement will increase and have a greater impact.
"Students at the graduate level have more intensive and specialized training and a deeper foundation of knowledge," she said. "This will allow us to expand our outreach and be more strategic in those targeted communities."
Most of the BSN graduates are from South Carolina and the Orangeburg area. They are working at local clinics, hospitals, specialized care centers, and other healthcare facilities. However, several are working outside the area due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We have Claflin nurses on the frontline," said Smith who earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of South Carolina. "Some are in locations that have high COVID-19 infection rates but a shortage of nurses.
They are working in high-demand environments at very competitive salaries due to the shortage of qualified nurses. But they are facing intense pressure to provide high-quality patient care while protecting themselves and their families from Covid-19."
In addition to the SACSCOC approval of the MSN program, the RN to BSN program received accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) Board of Commissioners through 2024. The program also received the 2019 Nursing Program of the Year at the HBCU Awards Ceremony. Claflin conferred 25 degrees to BSN graduates in July 2020 and the program held its sixth pinning ceremony in December 2019 as 15 graduates earned bachelor's degrees and received their nursing pins. Claflin has graduated more than 80 students from its RN to BSN program since the program started four years ago.
"I knew that Claflin was destined for greatness because of the family atmosphere," Smith said. "However, I had no idea that our success would unfold this way.
We have an excellent support system in the university's administration and top-notch faculty who support our students wholeheartedly. President Warmack and Provost Wright have given us outstanding support and a vision to be the best."
When asked about her priorities for the coming year, Smith said she wants to establish more community partnerships which will increase student engagement with population health that focuses on health outcomes for a group or individuals that share a geographical location and is geared towards creating equity in health care delivery.
"We have opportunities to receive funding from grants that will help us offer additional services to the community through the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex and other collaborative partnerships. I believe that the sky is the limit!"