NATCHITOCHES – As a member of the Spirit of Northwestern Demon Marching Band and other music ensembles, Rebecca Blackshear relied on her music scholarships to help pay for college and as part of the first cohort of nursing students to complete their clinical studies in Natchitoches, she is grateful she didn’t have to relocate and give up her music scholarships.
“We brought the Baccalaureate Nursing program to Natchitoches two years ago. Prior to that we only had the associate nursing program,” said Dr. Dana Clawson, dean of the NSU’s College of Nursing and Allied Health. “This is our first graduating class from the baccalaureate Natchitoches campus program.”
Blackshear is one of 17 nursing students who completed their degrees in Natchitoches and will be awarded diplomas during Fall Commencement on Friday, Dec. 14.
The majority of Northwestern State nursing majors complete clinical studies at NSU’s Shreveport-Line Avenue Campus or at the Alexandria campus. But some students have personal and/or professional obligations that make taking clinicals in another city prohibitive. For example, student-athletes and those who are scholarship students in Creative and Performing Arts or other organizations would not have been able to fulfil their scholarship obligations while completing clinicals. Other students have part-time jobs or families in Natchitoches.
For Blackshear, it was imperative that she stay in Natchitoches to keep her music scholarships and maintain leadership positions she holds in several organizations.
“I actually did not know that Natchitoches was even an option for clinical until I was filling out my application, but it is one of the best things that has happened to me since coming to NSU,” Blackshear said. “I was also privileged enough to get a paid position as a Student Extern through Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, so staying in Natchitoches for clinical was a huge help with work as well. A lot of people approach me about doing extra-curricular activities on top of clinical, and I always respond the same: the professors in the nursing program, especially on the Natchitoches campus, are in the business of seeing us succeed, and have always been willing to do what is needed to assist me in just that. Nursing school is difficult, but with help from professors that care about me and the want to be a nurse, it is possible.”
Tamara Baxter is the Natchitoches campus coordinator. Of the 17 graduates, six began and finished at the Natchitoches campus, she said.
“Students have been very grateful for the opportunity to remain in the Natchitoches area to complete their full clinical experience,” Baxter said. “Prior to this cohort, students could only complete their pre-requisite classes and would have to relocate or commute to the Shreveport or Alexandria campuses. We have had our students commute to Alexandria area hospitals for certain clinical experiences and to Bossier to participate in simulation activities, but for the bulk of their BSN education, they have been right here.”
Baxter said students who may be from other parts of the state also are grateful because they do not have to relocate and they can remain with the support system they have developed away from home.
Blackshear grew up in a Navy family and her parents currently live in Scurry, Texas. She completed school in Forney, Texas, near Dallas where she participated in a program that exposed high school students to several different health sciences professions and enrolled at NSU as a double major in nursing and music performance.
“I eventually had to pick one. I struggled a lot, because music and education have always been some of my greatest passions, among others, like caring for people, hearing their life-stories and being there for people through hard times. I realized, though, that nursing takes all of my passions and rolls it into one incredible profession. Once I made that realization, it was nursing full steam ahead, and I had never been more excited about making a decision in my life.”
Blackshear believes that the leadership skills she learned by participating in band, music ensembles and honor societies had a direct impact on her professionalism as a nurse. She organized a Natchitoches chapter of the Student Nurses Association and serves as president. She credited professors of nursing Dr. Amy Garcie and Dr. Theresa Kyzar and Dr. Dan McDonald, assistant professor of music, as important mentors.
“Overall I just want people who are interested in nursing, or are currently in nursing school to know that it is so possible to be successful here,” Blackshear said. “It sounds scary when students hear us talk about our clinical experiences, or the fact that our grading scale is harder, or how many chapters are on one exam for us; but, ultimately, the professors at NSU, especially here in Natchitoches, want nothing more than to see all of us become successful nurses. A whole bunch of tough love goes into that, but that’s exactly what it is: love.”
Information on NSU’s College of Nursing is available at nursing.nsula.edu.
Fall Commencement at NSU will be at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Dec. 14. Graduates from the Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development, the Louisiana Scholars’ College and the College of Arts and Sciences with the exception of those receiving degrees in general studies will receive diplomas at 10 a.m. Graduates in general studies along with those receiving degrees from College of Nursing and Allied Health and the College of Business and Technology will receive diplomas at 3 p.m. Information is available at nsula.edu.