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KU School of Nursing-Salina graduates first class of students

June 12, 2019

By Kristi Birch

Students in first class of KU School of Nursing-Salina
First graduates from the KU School of Nursing in Salina

When Sarah Medlock begins her job as a registered nurse at Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, in June, she'll be fulfilling a dream that began in childhood. And as a member of the first class to graduate from the Salina campus of the University of Kansas School of Nursing, she'll also be one of the first from that campus to fulfill the School's mission to train more nurses with a bachelor's degree to work throughout the state of Kansas.

Medlock is one of nine students who compose this first class from the Salina campus, who, along with more than 100 nursing students from KU School of Nursing main campus in Kansas City, received their bachelor of science in nursing diplomas at graduation ceremonies last month.

The KU School of Nursing opened the Salina campus in 2017 largely in response to the shortage of nurses in the state, particularly in sparsely populated areas where it can be tough to attract health care providers and keep them there. The idea was to put a KU School of Nursing in a central area near many rural communities so that people who live there, and are therefore more likely to stay, can attend. A town of nearly 50,000 people, Salina itself isn't rural, but it is close to the bullseye of the state, and many rural communities are easily accessible from Salina.

The other critical point was to train nurses at the bachelor's degree level. Nurses can be licensed as a registered nurse with a two-year degree, but research shows that hospitals employing nurses with a bachelor's degree or higher have better patient outcomes. The Salina program accepts students into its BSN program who have completed two years of undergraduate nursing education at any regionally accredited college or university.

Medlock, who grew up about 30 miles from Salina in Abilene and had always wanted to go to KU, applied after she came across an article about the new nursing school opening in Salina. "I really enjoyed the small class sizes," Medlock said. "Our class was really able to connect, and I believe that we all made some lifelong friends."

The students in Salina follow the same curriculum as their counterparts in Kansas City and connect live with nursing classes in Kansas City via interactive television. Classes are broadcast to Kansas City from the Salina campus as well.

"The KU School of Nursing BSN classroom now spans almost halfway across Kansas, using ITV to connect students from urban and rural working and learning environments," said Lisa Larson, Ph.D., RN, assistant dean of academic affairs at the KU School of Nursing-Salina. "Students' learning is enriched by having perspectives of nursing and healthcare from both viewpoints."

So far, seven of the nine Salina graduates have taken jobs in Kansas, and the remaining two are still job hunting. (Originally, the class in Salina had 12 students, but two moved to part-time status and have not yet graduated, and another student chose to leave the program.)

Larson notes that the two classes that follow the class of 2019 reflect a more targeted recruiting approach and have more students who come from rural Kansas towns than the first class did. "The shifting demographics are noticeable," she said.

The class that will begin in the fall of 2019 has 18 entering students, and all but three are from rural Kansas. With enrollment growth to 48 students planned, the Salina campus has the opportunity to produce nursing graduates whose skills include not only providing direct patient care, but also working in nursing education or formal nursing leadership positions. Kansas needs nurses in all of these areas.

"By pairing a quality nursing education noted for its excellence with external clinical partners offering diverse clinical experiences, we hope students are encouraged to practice in Kansas after graduation, particularly in more rural areas where the need for nurses is often the greatest," said Larson.

Salina is also home to the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Salina, which opened in 2011 with the same ambition: that graduates would choose to practice in rural communities. In 2018, the two schools in Salina got a new home with the opening of the Salina Health Education Center, a renovated building that provides the same simulation technology, clinical and anatomy labs and flexible learning spaces found in the Health Education Building that opened in 2017 at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. 

Nursing and medical students train together using simulation technology to learn clinical skills, as well as how to work together effectively. They do most of their clinical work at Salina Regional Health Center, a 223-bed hospital that serves a wide surrounding area. 

Jhade Gray, a 2019 Salina campus nursing graduate from Milford, Kansas, will be working at a Kansas City hospital and plans to continue his nursing education in a few years. He says that what he liked about going to nursing school in Salina was the one-on-one time he got with his instructors. "Another thing was the amazing nurses I met at Salina Regional," Gray added. "They taught me so much."

Last modified: Jun 12, 2019