UMKC nursing students get hands-on, real-time clinical training using cutting-edge simulation technology, such as the school's METI-man Human Patient Simulator. METI-man can be programmed to display a wide range of physiological symptoms and medical events.

UMKC School of Nursing celebrates 30 years

School continues to build on long tradition of educational excellence

Although it was 30 years ago this fall that the UM Board of Curators approved the establishment of the UMKC School of Nursing (SON), the tradition of excellence in nursing education and caring for the community began much earlier.

In 1939, six years after what was then the University of Kansas City (UKC) welcomed its first class of students, the university partnered with Research Hospital and Kansas City’s historic General Hospital to launch a "nursing and dietetics" education program. Over the next decade, the program would evolve into an official baccalaureate-level nursing program.

When UKC joined the UM System and became the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1963, university and community leaders began working to expand the nursing program. By 1972, the pieces were in place for complete undergraduate and graduate nursing programs, which expanded to include pediatric, adult and women's health nurse practitioner (NP) tracks.

With a growing demand for nursing education and growing respect for the program, on Nov. 16, 1979, the UM Board of Curators approved the establishment of the UMKC School of Nursing.

Expanding education

Over the last 30 years, the school has expanded its bachelor's, master's and doctoral educational offerings, and in January 2010 SON will begin its newest program -- an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.

Today, SON boasts an enrollment of more than 900 students -- a number that Lora Lacey-Haun, dean of the nursing school, expects will continue to grow.

"In light of current and projected shortages of health care workers, we need to continue to look for innovative ways to increase enrollment," Lacey-Haun said. One of the ways SON is doing that is through its leadership in developing a variety of distance learning opportunities.

"We were the first UMKC school to offer distance learning, and our faculty and students were true pioneers of the online classroom," Lacey-Haun said.

Currently, SON provides online education to nursing students at partner universities in St. Joseph and Joplin. The most recent application of the School’s expertise in delivering distance education is the UMKC Rural Nursing Initiative, designed to increase the number of baccalaureate-level registered nurses serving in rural areas. The school recently received a $1.75 million grant to fund the program.

Also, SON plans to grow enrollment through the "Caring for Missourians" initiative, proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon to provide $40 million to health science programs throughout the state. As part of the initiative, SON will receive approximately $1.7 million, which will enable the school to launch its accelerated BSN program.

"This program will allow students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline to earn their BSN in as little as 18 months," Lacey-Haun said. "Our goal is to increase the number of BSN students we graduate by 12 percent."

Expanding research

As the school has grown, and continued to recruit a distinguished faculty of scholars, the emphasis on research also has expanded. Research expertise in the school spans a broad range of skills -- from basic science to community-based research -- and currently covers areas such as muscle fatigue and aging, HIV, end of life care, violence prevention and quality of life.

"In keeping with UMKC's urban-serving mission, the School of Nursing also continues to expand an active program of urban health and wellness research," Lacey-Haun said. Ongoing projects include pregnancy prevention in adolescents, HIV prevention in African American and Hispanic women and violence prevention in urban communities.

Perhaps the school's most impressive expansion, and the key to its continued expansion, came in the fall of 2007 when the school moved from its original home in the Truman Medical Center annex to the university's spacious Health Sciences Building (HSB) south of the School of Medicine. The new HSB features more than 225,000 square feet of classroom, lab, research and office space and is the cornerstone of the UMKC Health Sciences campus at Hospital Hill.

Epilogue: A shared beginning

The establishment of the School of Nursing in fall 1979 was a milestone for UMKC. It turned out to be a milestone for a young Kansas City woman named Brenda Riggs as well. In October 1979, Riggs answered a help-wanted ad for a secretary position. She remembers that the ad was a bit vague, but it did mention a "Plaza location," which definitely appealed to her.

"It wasn't until I called about the job that I found out it was UMKC," Riggs said. "When they called me in for an interview, I honestly told them that I didn't expect to stay in the job for more than a year. That was 30 years ago and I am still here."

Riggs has advanced through the years, from senior secretary to administrative assistant to senior academic advisor -- the position she holds today. There were some growing pains during those first years, however, for both Riggs and the school.

"That first year, we had fewer than 30 students and I believe only five or six faculty," Riggs said. "I had quite a bit of free time, so I started reading a medical dictionary. I think I got up to 'M' before things started to get busier."

And things have continually gotten busier at the UMKC School of Nursing. Amid all the changes she has seen, one very important thing has remained constant, Riggs noted.

"From day one, the nursing school has been a wonderful place to work," she said. "I had no idea that working in a university setting would be so enlightening and rewarding."


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UMKC School of Nursing: Fast Facts


1939 - University of Kansas City (now UMKC) launches Dietetics and Nursing program

1948 - UKC offers Bachelor of Arts in Nursing

1955 - Nursing degree changes to Bachelor of Science

1963 - UKC joins the UM System, becomes UMKC

1973 - Graduate nursing program started under the School of Graduate Studies

1979 - School of Nursing established

1981 - R.N. to B.S.N. program begins

1994 - M.S.N. outreach/distance learning programs in Joplin and St. Joseph, MO began

1995 - Doctoral curricula implemented

2001 - Pre-licensure baccalaureate degree program began

2007 - Enrolled the first class of Doctorate of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) students

2008 - Rural Nursing Initiative launched

2009 - Student enrollment tops 900

Did you know?

* The School boasts a 90 percent pass rate in the Nurse Practitioner program, which is well above the national average.

* The School is known for its research in women's and children's health, barriers to immunization, and HIV/AIDS education/intervention for at-risk populations.

* The School uses state-of-the-art patient simulators to train students to be well prepared for real-life situations.

* The Summer Pathways to Nursing Program brings urban high school students to campus for a week each summer to learn about health care as a career choice.

* The School participates in UMKC's dedication to community service through a partnership with Operation Breakthrough’s Helen Gragg Clinic and the Sheffield House.

* School faculty are experts in offering distance education with more than 15 years of experience in providing nursing education through technology.

* 80 percent of UMKC nursing graduates who attend classes at the Hospital Hill campus (not distance-learners) remain in the Kansas City area to practice.

Posted: November 12, 2009

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"Working with such talented and dedicated colleagues and the opportunity to work with the students -- that's what keeps me coming back each day."

Brenda Riggs
Sr. Academic Advisor
UMKC School of Nursing

Brenda Riggs, Lora Lacey-Haun, UMKC School of Nursing

UMKC School of Nursing Dean Lora Lacey-Haun (right) recently recognized Sr. Academic Advisor Brenda Riggs with the Dean’s Distinguished Staff Award. Riggs has been at the school for its entire 30-year history.

Kansas City General Hospital Cadet Nurse Corps

Members of Kansas City's General Hospital Cadet Nurse Corps training program, circa 1943-1945. The program was affiliated with the University of Kansas City's (now UMKC) nursing education program.

Truman Medical Center Annex

The Truman Medical Center annex at 22nd and Holmes housed the School of Nursing until 2007 and the completion of the new Health Sciences Building on UMKC's Hospital Hill campus.

UMKC Health Sciences Building

UMKC's new Health Sciences Building opened in the fall of 2007. Home to the Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy, the state-of-the-art education and research facility is the cornerstone of the UMKC Health Sciences Campus at Hospital Hill.

UMKC School of Nursing community service

The importance of community service is a big part of the educational programs at the School of Nursing. Here, students prepare to administer free flu shots to members of the community.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon at UMKC

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon visited the School of Nursing earlier this year to discuss the statewide Caring for Missourians initiative, which will invest $40 million during fiscal year 2010 to help Missouri's public colleges and universities increase their capacity to train students to work in critical-need health care positions.