Lisa Larson, Ph.D., RN, calls on her Kansas roots to guide the new KU School of Nursing program in Salina
April 09, 2018
By Kristi Birch
Lisa Larson, Ph.D., RN, knows first-hand that you don't always have to travel a long distance to go far in your career and that sometimes you can get world-class training and experience right in your own backyard.
A native of tiny Highland in far northeast Kansas, Larson is the first assistant dean of academic affairs at the new University of Kansas School of Nursing campus in Salina. She has lived her entire life in Kansas, working as a staff nurse in three community hospitals, as a nurse in two school districts, including Salina, and as a nurse educator in a baccalaureate nursing program at a local university. As a result, she seems especially well-suited for leading a program that focuses on providing nurses for the rural areas of Kansas.
"When you are caring for patients in a small or rural hospital, you are taking care of people who taught you in school, who you go to church with, who you have known for years," said Larson, who started her nursing career in 1992 at Salina Regional Health Center, back when it was called Asbury Hospital. "You are taking care of your own. That's a draw for rural areas, and it's been a draw for me."
"As a nurse who has practiced in rural settings throughout Kansas, Dr. Larson brings to this position exactly the kind of experience, understanding, and knowledge that our nursing students need," said Sally L. Maliski, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the KU School of Nursing.
The KU School of Nursing Salina campus, which shares facilities with the University of Kansas School of Medicine's program in Salina, opened its doors to its first class of 12 students last September. One of the primary missions of the new campus is to address nursing shortages in Kansas, especially in rural areas, including the western part of the state.
The satellite campus aims to address those shortages by supplying the state with more nurses trained with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The Salina program accepts students into its BSN program who have completed two years of undergraduate nursing education at any regionally accredited community college, college or university.
Industry research shows nurses with a bachelor's degree or higher produce better patient outcomes, which is why the Institute of Medicine issued a report in 2010 calling for 80 percent of registered nurses to hold bachelor's degrees by 2020.
The BSN curriculum in Salina is the same as the one offered on the Kansas City campus. The Salina students currently have one classroom and connect live with nursing classes in Kansas City via interactive television. A co-instructor in the Salina classroom helps facilitate discussion, and students can ask questions or make comments by raising their hands virtually via a red sign with an image of a hand on it that appears on the video screen. Moreover, sometimes classes are taught in Salina and broadcast back to Kansas City.
Nursing students in Salina will gain most of their clinical experience working at Salina Regional Health Center, a 223-bed hospital with multiple affiliated hospitals and clinics. Training and working in rural hospitals, as Larson knows, can give a nurse broader experience.
"In my last job working at Lindsborg Community Hospital, I worked in acute care and on the skilled care floor — there were not separate units," she said. "And then there might be an outpatient who came in that I'd have to run and take care of, or a patient in the ER. In smaller hospitals, you do more things. For example, we didn't have a respiratory therapist, so the nurses did it. And this ability to do a lot of different tasks is what our BSN prepares you for."
Salina Regional is a community hospital, so patients come from a wide geographic area to take advantage of its varied services: it's a Level 3 trauma center and employs neurosurgeons and heart surgeons. For the nursing students, this means they gain exposure to a broader clinical experience. And as an incentive to keep students practicing in the area, Salina Regional also offers scholarships to nursing students as well as a loan forgiveness program to nurses who stay to work at the hospital after graduation.
Larson began her nursing education commuting the 80 miles round trip from Hiawatha, Kansas, to St. Joseph, Missouri, to complete her BSN at Missouri Western State College. After spending her first year out of school working at Asbury, Larson then took a job at Hiawatha Community Hospital and then the Hiawatha school district. She returned to the Salina area in 2003 where she worked for the Salina school district until 2012. She earned her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from Fort Hays State University in 2011, and then the next year, starting teaching at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina.
Good fortune smiled on Larson after she had gone back to direct patient care as a staff nurse at Lindsborg Community Hospital. Just as she was finishing her doctorate in nursing education and health care informatics online from the KU School of Nursing, Larson learned that KU was opening a new campus in Salina.
"I was beside myself," said Larson. "I was just months from finishing my Ph.D. at KU but never in my life had I thought I would work for KU."
Larson reached out to Cynthia Teel, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, associate dean for academic affairs, and told her she would love to interview for the job. One her big selling points for her role as the leader of the Salina campus is her experience and place in the community. During the 15 or so years she's lived in Salina, Larson has made connections with many entities and individuals within the community.
"Dr. Larson is an integral part of the Salina community, making her uniquely able to facilitate the students in engaging with the community as well," Maliski said. "We are very fortunate to have Dr. Larson leading the KU School of Nursing in Salina."
In her role as assistant dean, Larson is looking ahead to this summer, when the KU schools of Nursing and Medicine in Salina to move into a newly renovated building where they will share 40,000 square feet of space as well as a simulation lab.
"When we go into the new building next summer, there will be more interprofessional activities and we want to make it as seamless as possible between professions," she said.