Hampton Univ. produces top nursing students in Virginia

By Shemar Woods

These students on Hampton University’s campus stand out. They sport light blue and white nurse gowns, different from many women and men who dress casually.

HU nursing students are a special group, gaining practical experience as they work toward becoming registered nurses while completing 122-hour curriculums upon graduation. Once they receive their degrees, the nurses will have an opportunity to find jobs with average starting base salaries of $39,000 per year. 

“You have to have a passion if you want to survive in this program,” said Kemeya Spence, a junior from New Haven, Conn. “We learn something totally different every day and we’ll have more of a work load on our hands once we graduate. It’s challenging and our salary will never reach the amount of work we really do.”

HU nursing majors begin working in the field from the time they enter the program as freshmen. Once a week, the care givers in training work eight-hour shifts at one of the local hospitals. Hampton is represented within the VA Hospital, Sentara hospitals, and area high school and elementary school clinics.  

The daily list of responsibilities – which are nearly identical to that of registered nurses – include cleaning the patients, passing medication along, and putting together a care plan.

The care plan, a nurse’s diagnosis of the patient, is one of the most difficult tasks for freshmen, said Spence. During the in-depth process, everything learned from classes and on-the-job training is applied in real-life situations.

“I remember back to my freshman year. It took about four hours,” said Spence, before saying how her progression through the program has made task a little bit easier. “Now, I would say it takes two hours.”

Said  Diedra Johnson, a nursing professor, “These students have to know that they have to study. When students go out on the job, they have to be knowledgeable in order to be successful.”   

Because of its professionalism, HU’s nursing program, which has a Nursing Center to provide health care services for the community – including homeless and other displaced populations –, continues to attract students from around the country. Hampton has the oldest continuous baccalaureate nursing program in the commonwealth of Virginia and was the first in the local region to earn National League for Nursing accreditation. 

Teachers and professionals in the field treat the students as real practitioners, though not to the point where they leave them in the dark. Acting nurses deal with everything from reoccurring sicknesses, to emergency injuries, to deaths.

“We are expected to do everything,” said Spence. “When you walk in and someone dies, it brings you back to reality. All of your patients aren’t going to stay alive. You might even shed some tears.”

The rapport between Hampton University student nurses and the hospitals where they complete their clinical assignments has been strong throughout the years. Once the four-year students graduate as RNs, area hospitals are quick to hire Hampton students, because of their experience.

Currently one of the largest schools on campus, it enrolls 440 undergraduate students, 33 graduate students (that includes the Virginia Beach campus) and 33 Ph.D. majors. 

“We strive to have competent, knowledgeable nurses that are going to go out and help the community,” said Johnson, who teaches nutrition, a required class in the nursing school.

That’s not all the students attribute to their ability to find a job immediately after graduation. Said Spence, who plans to attend graduate school after she receives her degree in 2011: “They [professors] have been professionals for 30 years. They are like walking encyclopedias.”

The writer is a junior in the Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.