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Friday, April 28, 2006

Expert touts nursing education to UNCP audience

Betty M. Johnson R.N., Ph.D., who wrote the book on nursing education, brought her crusade to UNC Pembroke April 20 for the 14th annual guest lectureship at the Nursing Department.

Speaker Dr. Betty Johnson with UNCP Prof. Cherry Beasley (left) and Dr. Barbara Synoweiz, director of the Nursing Department.

Speaker Dr. Betty Johnson with UNCP Prof. Cherry Beasley (left) and Dr. Barbara Synoweiz, director of the Nursing Department.

Author of “An Introduction to Theory and Reasoning in Nursing” (Lippincott; 2001), Dr. Johnson had strong advice for faculty of UNCP’s nursing programs.

“As faculty, urge your students from the first day to continue their education,” she said. “Ask them what school they plan to attend and what specialty they will study, and then ask them again.”

Dr. Johnson’s own career is evidence of the difficulties for nurses to continue their education.

“Nurses seem to ‘stop-out,’” she said. “If I had not stopped-out, I would have had 11 more years of practice at the highest level of nursing education.”

Dr. Johnson earned an associate degree in 1951, BSN in 1955, MSN in 1962 and Ph.D. in 1970. Stoppages aside, her career carried her across the U.S. and around the world on missions from rebuilding a nursing school in earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua to building a nursing program in Appalachia.

“Sometimes you need to do something just because you want to - because it satisfies some of the feelings you have,” she said. “I wanted to start a nursing program in the Appalachia region of Virginia. That program led to the development of 25 nurse practitioners who made a big difference in health care of the area.”

That program at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise is one of several posts Dr. Johnson held in higher education. In her retirement, she consults for universities including UNC Pembroke, said Cherry Beasley, a member of UNCP’s nursing faculty.

“Dr. Johnson is a national figure in nursing education, and she is a special friend to our department,” Beasley said.

Dr. Johnson is a strong advocate for nursing education, which she said has a history that is both pleasing and challenging for the future of the profession.

“The number one challenge is the shortage of nurses at the bedside, in the community and in the classroom,” she said. “And, we need a different level of nursing care.”

Dr. Johnson cited a recent study of 168 hospitals that concluded “as the mix of nurses moved to more baccalaureate and graduate training, the death rate declined by as much as 10 percent.”

Another study comparing the level of education of public school teachers and nurses revealed a starkly contrasting picture. In 1985, half of the teachers in the U.S. had graduate degrees compared to 5.7 percent of nurses. By 2004, 13 percent of nurses had graduate degrees.

“I am heartened when I read those numbers,” Dr. Johnson said. “I think we are moving in the right direction.”

Dr. Johnson advocates for continuous re-examination of the national nursing curriculum, and she poses some radical questions for the future of the profession.

“Are we spending too much time worrying about entry level nursing education?” she said. “Should a master’s degree be the entry level to the nursing profession?”

UNCP started its RN-to-BSN program in 1992 and a four-year BSN program in 2005. For more information about nursing at UNCP, please call 910.521.6522 or email

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