A Legacy of Caring and Excellence: Tarleton celebrates 40 years of nursing

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STEPHENVILLE (November 4, 2016) — Tarleton State University today celebrates 40 years of nursing—A Legacy of Caring and Excellence—honoring those who helped jumpstart the program in the early 1970s as well as current and past faculty and staff.

“This is a momentous occasion and a testament to the vision of longtime Stephenville physician and university alumnus Dr. Vance Terrell and the persistence of Drs. Robert Fain and Lamar Johanson,” said Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio. “Since 1976, Tarleton’s nursing program has helped meet North Texas’ need for highly-qualified registered nurses. If the past is prologue, the future for the nursing program is extremely bright.”

As of spring 2016, Tarleton boasts more than 1,700 nursing graduates—740 with an associate’s degree, 1,064 with a bachelor’s and 11 with a master’s. Many of these serve in rural hospitals and clinics throughout North Texas.

While area residents and physicians—like Terrell—recognized the need for a nursing program at Tarleton in the early ’70s, convincing the Texas Board of Nursing and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) wasn’t easy. In fact, the nursing board denied the university’s proposal three times.

“It was unprecedented for the Texas Board of Nursing to approve a degree program in a rural county without access to a large hospital for students to complete their clinical experiences,” explained Dr. Elaine Evans, head of Tarleton’s Nursing Department from 1989 through 2013, “but, with each denial, Drs. Terrell, Fain and Johanson became more determined that Tarleton would have a program to help meet the area’s critical shortage of registered nurses.”

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Their efforts paid off in 1976 with the go-ahead for Tarleton to offer an associate’s degree.

“No other degree program or endorsement has had a greater impact on the residents of the Cross Timbers Region than Tarleton’s nursing program,” said Johanson, head of the university’s Department of Biological Sciences in 1976, later dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and namesake of the Tarleton science building. “The quality of health care at all levels has been greatly elevated, and all our citizens have benefited.

“I was extremely fortunate to be in a position to help Dr. Fain (then dean of Tarleton’s College of Arts and Sciences and later provost and vice president of academic affairs) do the necessary legwork to get the nursing program approved,” Johanson added. “Establishing the nursing program was a very satisfying experience and a highlight for both our academic careers.

“We did the legwork, but we should never forget that Dr. Vance Terrell was the driving force and the spirit to establish the program,” he said.

Four administrators have led Tarleton’s nursing program since its beginning, and the program has been housed in four locations on the Stephenville campus.

When nursing classes started in 1976, the program was located in a converted engineering lab on the third floor of the old science building—today’s Mathematics Building. In 1983, the program moved to what now serves as Tarleton’s Welcome Center on the corner of Washington and McIlhaney streets and, from 1996 to 2010, the program took up much of the Tarleton Center.

The program’s current home—the 55,000-square-foot, three-story Nursing Building—was funded with $23.4 million in tuition revenue bonds and includes a fully-equipped simulation lab complete with state-of-the-art equipment and technology.

In addition to Evans­—who initiated programs at Tarleton-Fort Worth and Tarleton-Waco and led development of the bachelor’s degree in nursing program—and Dr. Susan Rugari, current head of Tarleton’s Nursing Department, credited with developing Tarleton’s graduate program in nursing, other administrators are:

• Faye Stevenson (1975-1983) – led development of the associate’s degree program; and
• Patricia Egdorf (1983-1989) – improved the associate’s degree program leading to a first-time licensing exam pass rate of 100 percent for five consecutive years.

Previously part of Tarleton’s College of Science and Technology, the nursing program moved to the university’s new College of Health Sciences and Human Services established this past spring.

To learn more about Tarleton’s Nursing Program, visit www.tarleton.edu/nursing.

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