This article was originally published in ZU News.
Azusa Pacific’s School of Nursing was recently ranked in the top nine nursing programs in the country by USA Today. APU is one of only two schools on the west coast to earn this ranking, the other being UCLA. This ranking came as no surprise to Cheryl Boyd, a nursing professor.
“I think it’s the dedication of the faculty who teach in this program,” Boyd said. “Our faculty have such a strong desire to grow these students. We are dedicated and committed to our students being excellent nurses. We are not striving for mediocrity at all. We are striving for excellence.”
Boyd currently teaches men’s surgery, pathophysiology and advanced pharmacology. She has taught several other classes in her 10 years at APU. This includes the clinicals that she leads each week at different hospitals throughout Southern California.
“Nursing is a practicing profession,” Boyd said. “That means we do hands-on care of our patients in a clinical environment. We take our students into the hospital and supplement everything that they’ve learned on campus so they can do hands-on learning. They have to for this profession.”
Katie Hill, also a nursing professor, seconded the significance of hands on work. She has taught at APU for over 25 years.
Hill is currently teaching the culminating class for nursing students, which they take in their final semester. In this class they work in critical care, emergency departments, cardiac catheterization labs and other acute areas caring for critically ill patients and their families.
“It’s been really exciting for me, because as I go to different hospitals throughout Southern California, I run into so many of my former students, now working as professional nurses,” Hill said. “APU has an excellent reputation with the community with our graduates from all of our programs including generic RN, LVN to BSN, RN to BSN, MSN, NP and Ph.D..”
Nursing students can be seen walking around campus in their scrubs after class. They work 12-hour shifts in their clinicals at times, giving them the a reputation for being perpetually busy.
“Nursing requires a significant commitment of time, energy and discipline. Nursing students are known to be some of the hardest working students on campus,” Hill said. “The knowledge and skill required to be a professional nurse is almost mind-boggling, how much there is to learn in a complex healthcare environment.”
Hill cited the amount of different types of cases and patients that nursing students deal with.
“By the end of four years of nursing school, students have cared for all types of patients,” Hill said. “Our students care for patients with hematologic malignancies such as leukemia. They also care for adult patients in the ICU following brain injuries, multiple trauma, cardiac events and psychiatric patients facing issues of depression, attempted suicide, drug overdose, etc.”
Hill said at the end of four years, APU nursing students are thoroughly prepared to be a nurse. Boyd agreed and said that is why the students have a high hire rate immediately after graduating.
“All of the faculty here have been practicing nurses. A lot of us have been in managerial roles where we hire nurses. We know the difference that a solid education makes. That’s what we’re working for,” Boyd said. “There is a huge difference between APU students and students from other universities. We hear about it all the time from nurses in hospitals, nurse managers and directors. They say they want to hire APU graduates.”
On the list of top nursing schools by USA Today, only one other school was on the West Coast—UCLA. Boyd said that UCLA also has a great nursing program, just one without faith integration.
“Nursing is a wholistic profession. At APU we allow you to have wholistic conversations about your faith. Programs that are very secular tend not to have conversations about the wholistic nature of nursing,” Boyd said. “It’s uncomfortable territory for them to talk about God, or faith, or the death and dying process. Those are not easy or encouraged conversations at other institutions. At APU they are. That to me is essential.”
According to Boyd, another thing that differentiates APU from other schools is the relationship between professors and students. She pointed to her number written on the whiteboard in her class, saying she encouraged students to text her when needed.
“We know each one of our students by name. We encourage them to stop in our office and develop relationships both in the classroom and in clinicals,” Boyd said.
These kinds of relationships have helped senior nursing major Erica Dennis make it through the program so far. Dennis said nursing often seems overbearing.
“It seems to fall together during the semester, throughout the nursing program. You reach this point where you ask yourself if you’re going to make it, but then you realize that you have made it and you’ll be fine,” Dennis said.
Dennis did not have any background in nursing before coming to APU. She said this was an advantage for her.
“Every semester there is something new. Each comes with its own challenges and rewards. It’s really neat how they set the program up to work like that,” Dennis said. “It stretches you. It challenges you. It provides opportunities that I don’t necessarily think other schools have to offer such as cultural experiences or theory based learning.”
According to Dennis, all the work in and out of the classroom was worth it immediately after she started working with patients. Hill agreed wholeheartedly with this.
“It’s kind of inexplicable. Once you have been touched by a patient and know that in some small way you have made a difference in their lives, there’s no turning back,” Hill said. “Your motivation is for your patients. It’s not to impress your instructor or your family but rather know that you can provide the best care possible.”
Boyd emphasized this point as well: It’s all about the patients. She referenced the shooting at the concert in Las Vegas last week, where many nurses turned into first responders as bullets were flying.
“Nursing is a life way. It’s a part of you 24/7,” Boyd said. “It’s not something you turn on and turn off. You don’t walk away from nursing. It’s who you are.”