To the practicing nurse, a Ph.D. means very little. But to the practicing nurse who wants to share his or her knowledge with the future generation, it means everything: respect in academia, the ability to become a tenure track professor and the freedom to pass on knowledge to those who someday will take their place.
The accomplishment represents as much a step forward for each individual as it does for the university.
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences launched the program in fall 2008 with 20 students.
Technology allows the students to interact with one another and their professors despite the distance between them.
The program is offered entirely on Blackboard, an online classroom environment.
There, students access course syllabi, multimedia presentations, and message boards.
Professors post videos that feature PowerPoint-type slides with voiceover, so it is almost like the student is sitting in a lecture.
“You have to really think about how to make it interesting for them to enjoy,” Dr. Gloria Weber Duke, professor and associate dean for research and outreach in the college, said.
Dr. Susan Yarbrough, a professor and associate dean for graduate nursing programs, said the professors made a point to build on the strengths of each student encouraging them through the process.
Many of the students said it was this support along with that of family and friends that helped them through the process.
“We were determined to change the way doctoral education takes place,” Dr. Haas said. “We wanted them supported, and we wanted them to get through without sacrificing rigor.”
The following are the stories of the first class of graduates:
DR. E'LORIA SIMON CAMPBELL
Dr. Campbell became interested in nursing when she was a child. At age 5, doctors found a tumor in her ear canal, and for the next 13 years, she had five to six surgeries on her ear. During that time, she said, she experienced the care of many nurses and realized the impact they have on people's lives.
“I used to be excited about going to the doctor because the environment the nurses presented was so therapeutic,” Dr. Campbell said by phone. “I wasn't even concerned about my ear.”
After graduating from Crocket High School in 1988, she began work as a licensed vocational nurse in Crockett. She later obtained a bachelor's degree from Prairie View and a master's from UT Tyler online. She said it was after that, that she received information about the doctoral program.
Her dissertation focused on empowerment as a hypertension management strategy for black women.
Black people are more affected by hypertension than any other race, she said. And black women are more affected than black men.
She talked with women in Houston and Crockett in order to get urban and rural samples. She said she found there is a greater need for education when it comes to hypertension. Doctors often give a diagnosis and prescriptions but offer little more in the way of answers or education about how the patients can help themselves.
She also found that rural residents were more receptive to the study than urban ones.
Dr. Campbell said this degree is just another way to expand her horizons.
“I've always been the one that wanted to do the best and be the best,” she said. “I want to be used according to God's purpose for my life.”
She said she would like to obtain research grant funding in order to continue the study. She would like to follow the women over time and to educate them about their health and hypertension “to get them to see that they have a choice, so they don't have to be powerless.”
DR. IRENE GILLILAND
A clinician at heart, she said she entered nursing because she had few other options. The daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, her parents did not support women getting an education.
“This whole cultural thing was really hard for them to understand …” said Dr. Gilliland, who grew up in Pennsylvania before moving to Virginia as a young adult. “So my mother finally kind of reneged and said, ‘If you want to go to college, then you have to be a nurse or a teacher.'”
Dr. Gilliland chose nursing, and she hasn't looked back since. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing before entering academia. But she always has continued to work “at the bedside” as well.
Her research focused on end-of-life care. As a nurse who works with hospice patients, she said nursing students need to be better educated about how to provide physical care and communicate with people who are dying.
“We all have to die, from the moment we live and breathe; (it's something that) we have to do,” she said. “Death is not an option. How we live the last few hours, minutes … is an option.”
Dr. Gilliland said it's been a challenge to complete the degree while working three jobs, and she's relieved to be done with it.
She said being an online student helped her to be a better online professor. And she plans to continue walking the two paths of practicing nurse and academic.
She said she gets a lot of satisfaction from working with patients and families particularly in the hospice setting. As an instructor, she said, she enjoys helping students think outside the box and consider the possibilities of an issue.
She said she plans to spend time with her family, work in her yard and read for pleasure.
DR. MONICA RAMIREZ
“I never wanted to really be a nurse,” she said. Her parents worked in radiology when she was growing up, so she was around hospitals a lot.
“As a child, I swore I would never ever do anything medical,” she said by phone.
However, that aversion to the field eventually changed, and she decided she decided to go into nursing.
“I realized all you could do and fell in love with it immediately,” she said.
After earning bachelor's and master's degrees from Incarnate Word, she decided to get a Ph.D. so she could become a tenure track professor.
As a full-time employee, wife and mother, the program demanded a lot of her and her family, she said.
Days began at 5:30 a.m. and went to midnight or 12:30 a.m. the next day. She said she often wondered whether the sacrifice was worth it when her family would be out having fun and she was holed up in her office.
“Sometimes it's a sacrifice, but in the end, it's worth it,” she said.
Dr. Ramirez's research focused on the nutritional habits of Hispanic mothers and daughters in the United States and Mexico.
She said she found that the health perspectives of younger women reflect the perspectives of their peers more so than their mothers. She said she would like to use some of these findings to change health policies and advertising.
She said graduate education has caused her to look at nursing from a different perspective and begin research.
“It just really widens the scope of how you can make a change in the world,” she said.
She praised the UT Tyler faculty, saying they always were so supportive of the students.
“They would provide you with an opportunity to be challenged, but never challenging to the point you can't do this,” she said.
DR. SHELLYE VARDAMAN
“It's kind of surreal,” she said.
Dr. Vardaman decided to go into nursing when she entered college. Growing up, she had little exposure to the health care industry, but she did have an aunt who was a nurse, and she said she enjoyed her high school anatomy and physiology classes.
After earning a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Alabama, she began working in hospitals and doctor's offices. She eventually moved into academia, where she remains today.
Dr. Vardaman's research focused on the assimilation of foreign nursing students into U.S. culture and the work force. She said as a professor, she was surprised to find that often top-notch undergraduates who were international students would come into nursing school and fail. She wanted to find out why.
She learned there are many factors these foreign students deal with including finding work, the knowledge that if they fail, they might be sent back home, family pressures and more.
“Nursing school is a transition in itself even for Americans,” Dr. Vardaman said. “Everyone will tell you, it's a completely different world.”
She interviewed more than 10 students from eight countries who were studying at colleges or universities in five states. She said through this degree program, she uncovered a love of research that she didn't know was in her.
“I'm going to continue looking at transitions and most likely stay with internationals,” she said.