JSU nursing students

JSU nursing students work on a dummy during class. They are from left, Matt Mullinax, Emory Reedy and Carolina Barefield. The Jacksonville State University school of nursing will celebrate its 50th anniversary Saturday. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE A degree in nursing from Jacksonville State University wasn’t a necessity for Rachel Morgan to successfully lobby on Capitol Hill.

But it helped.

For 17 years, Morgan lobbied for the National Conference of State Legislatures, pushing to keep Congress from placing unfunded mandates on states, particularly where Medicaid is concerned. Learning about and lobbying on the joint state and federal health care program, Morgan said she talked with officials from every state, interacted with every single part of the health care industry and interacted with physicians from almost every field.

“I can’t imagine doing as well as I did if I didn’t have my nursing degree from JSU,” Morgan said.

On Saturday the Lurleen B. Wallace School of Nursing will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The program has grown significantly over the decades but still consistently provided the instruction needed for graduates to succeed in health care, alumni and students say.

“The most significant milestone for our program is that we’ve achieved a reputation of quality and excellence that is unsurpassed and that lets students basically pick and choose jobs after they graduate,” said Christie Shelton, dean of the school of health professions and wellness at JSU.

Morgan, a 1987 graduate, said the university nursing program also helped prepare her for her current job as head nurse for the Washington County, Va., public school system, which has 15 schools.

“Because I had been a public health professional prior to going to JSU, the instructors wanted to make sure I still had a rich experience, so they made arrangements for me to work with the Calhoun County school system nurse,” Morgan said.

The school of nursing will celebrate the anniversary Saturday with an already sold-out gala for current and former faculty, alumni and students.

According to JSU, the Alabama Legislature created the school of nursing in 1967 to award a bachelor of science degree with a major in nursing. The first 10 students graduated from the program in 1972.

In 1998, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education approved JSU’s proposal for a master of science in nursing, the first approved in the state since 1984.

And last year, JSU received approval to offer a nurse practitioner doctorate, the first doctorate for the school of nursing.

Also last year, the nursing department started its simulation center at the Brookstone Physician Center on the RMC Jacksonville campus. The mock medical clinic lets nursing students practice procedures on six state-of-the-art computerized, anatomically correct, artificial adult patients.

To date, more than 3,200 students have graduated from the traditional nursing program.

As of fall 2016, 518 students were nursing majors at JSU, the second-highest amount for a single major at the university behind the 543 undecided management majors.

Manuel Nidal, a 24-year-old second semester JSU nursing student from Crossville, was practicing inserting catheters into the anatomically correct dummies at Wallace Hall on Wednesday morning. Nidal said he wanted to become a nurse because he’s always loved helping people and had heard JSU’s program was great.

“The teachers, they really work with you and are there for you,” Nidal said.

Alyssa Martin, a 25-year-old fourth-semester nursing student from Kennesaw, Ga., said she came to JSU after having bad experiences with nursing programs at other universities.

“The pre-nursing adviser here was great ... here they were really helpful,” Martin said. “I applied to a few schools, but found I couldn’t talk to any of their pre-nursing advisers or that they didn’t have one at all.”

Martin said that though JSU has plenty of great technology and equipment, it’s the instructors who make the school of nursing great.

“They care about you,” she said. “They don’t want you to just pass, they want you to understand the material ... I’ve talked to other nurses about to graduate from other colleges who don’t know nearly as much as I do.”

Beverly Coleman, who graduated from the JSU school of nursing in 1977 and is now a medical auditor at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, said the department has always had a knack for hiring good instructors.

“We had some of the best instructors to explain to us what to expect in the field,” Coleman said. “They gave us expanded opportunities for where we could go in nursing.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.