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Member of first SON graduating class now nursing school dean in North Dakota
As Chandice Covington, Ph.D., sees it, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston is the same as it was when she was among its first students in 1972. It is still a place that uses cutting-edge technology to teach future nurses to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and compassionate caregivers.
Thirty-five years ago, the cutting-edge technology Covington used was a heavy, bulky camera and video recorder roughly the size of large suitcases that used tapes “the size of bricks,” Covington recalls, which she used to create a black and white video for her final project. Today, nursing students practice techniques on high-tech computerized mannequins that serve as patient simulators and attend class in rooms with flatscreen video monitors and DVD players.
One notable difference between today’s nursing students and Covington’s graduating Class of 1974 is the school building. The School of Nursing originated at the Nurses Residence of Hermann Hospital as a clinical campus of Galveston’s program of The University of Texas System School of Nursing. The school soon moved to the basement of a parking garage within the Hermann Professional Building Annex. Today, the school is housed in an award-winning “green” building. However, Covington fondly recalls the sounds of cars driving overhead through the garage and says she was very happy with her experience at the school 35 years ago.
“I had a wonderful program,” Covington says. “I don’t regret that we were in the parking garage.
“Someone asked me, ‘what do you think [of the new School of Nursing building]?’ I said, ‘it’s not the parking garage, but it will do,’” Covington joked.
Taking a more serious tone, Covington called the new building “beautiful.”
“The fact that it runs off of sustainable energy is really in keeping with what nursing believes about sustainable health,” she added.
After years of working as a professor at The University of California at Los Angeles, Northwestern State University in Shreveport, La., and other colleges around the country, Covington said, “I felt like I was ready to steer a school of nursing toward a mission of developing the best and brightest nurses for the nation.” She became dean of the University of North Dakota College of Nursing in September 2005, but her path toward that position really started 35 years ago at the UT School of Nursing.
“Our first orientation day, Dean Elizabeth Jones came in dressed very professionally and gave a talk to us on what it means to be a professional. I decided I wanted to be just like her. I’ll always remember that,” Covington said. “Today, when I welcome our new students, I tell them about my first day and the impression my dean made on me.”
Another lasting impression Covington has of The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston is of the encouragement she received from the faculty to do things she never thought possible. The video Covington made as her final project was on death and dying. The idea of interviewing a renowned expert on the subject seemed like a pipe dream until one of her professors handed Covington a phone and helped her place an international call.
“The faculty encouraged me to call Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who wrote On Death and Dying about the stages of grief and dying. She was living in Switzerland at the time. Calling long distance in the 1970s just wasn’t done everyday,” Covington recalls. “Being part of a program that allowed you to dream, to use technology, to call up an expert in the field … that was pretty heady stuff.”
Today, Covington tries to instill the same courage to dream in the students at her college, while also reminding them of the responsibility involved in being a nurse.
“We want them to know early on that they’re entering a profession that will hold them to a different standard than mortal men and women,” Covington says.
“Great nursing can change outcomes for patients in the hospital, in the community and for families. That really inspires me.”
Covington has written more than 50 articles, five book chapters and currently serves as associate editor of the professional journal, Nursing and Health Sciences.
By Wendy K. Mohon, Institutional Advancement
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