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Faculty in UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions have one of the best work environments in the country.

That’s the opinion of the National League for Nursing, one of the leading professional associations for nursing education.

UL Lafayette is one of only two universities in the United States that has received the NLN’s prestigious Center of Excellence designation for Creating Environments that Promote Ongoing Faculty Development this year. The designation is granted for three years. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro also earned that distinction.

To date, only seven nursing programs have earned designations as Centers of Excellence in Nursing Education in the nation.

UL Lafayette’s honor was announced Oct. 1 at the NLN’s 2005 Education Summit in Baltimore, Md., which was attended by about 1,400 nursing educators.

According to the NLN, the Center of Excellence in Nursing Education program recognizes schools of nursing that set high standards, are committed to continuous quality improvement, and demonstrate sustained, evidence-based, and substantive innovation in one of three selected areas: student learning and professional development, pedagogical expertise of faculty, and the science of nursing education.

“ The working environment is crucial to the retention and recruitment of quality faculty,” said Dr. Melinda Oberleitner, head of the Nursing Department in UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing. “This is a national benchmark that every nurse educator in the country will recognize.”

Oberleitner said salary is not the primary factor when a nursing educator is evaluating potential employers despite a nationwide shortage of nursing faculty.

“ Every single one of us on this faculty could walk out the door this minute and make 50 percent to 75 percent more than we make here. None of us is here for the money. There are other factors that keep us here and the working environment is one of them,” she said.

Dr. Gail Poirrier, dean of UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing, said the university’s nursing program has earned a reputation as one of the top nursing programs in the nation because of its graduates’ pass rates for the national licensure exam for registered nurses. Over the past 20 years, 98 percent of its grads have passed the exam on the first try.

That consistent success rate reflects the high quality of the nursing faculty, she said.

“ When you have excellent faculty and outstanding students, there’s just a major explosion of teaching and learning that goes on,” Poirrier said.

UL Lafayette President Ray Authement agreed. “The College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions has a tradition of producing top-notch students who are recruited both in state and out of state. That is a true reflection of the valuable faculty in that college and how well they work with each other and their students.”

Nursing programs that applied for the three-year Center of Excellence designation were judged on several criteria, such as:

• commitment by all faculty to promote excellence in teaching, student advisement and curriculum development;

• faculty’s interest in using new teaching methods; and

• mentoring programs.

The program seeks to identify schools of nursing committed to achievement of excellence, support innovative schools in their efforts to attract and retain highly qualified students and faculty, promote excellence in nursing education through the application of evidence gleaned from research and other scholarly endeavors and encourage discussion among faculty, students, graduates and clinical partners about excellence in nursing education and how to promote it.

In its application, UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing noted that several nursing faculty have received prestigious, university-wide, competitive teaching awards, such as the UL Lafayette Foundation’s Distinguished Professor Award.

The Department of Nursing was the first department at UL Lafayette to hire a full-time professional advisor to work with its students.

Oberleitner described the faculty as “early adopters. If there’s a new technology, a new technique, a new teaching methodology, they’re right there, saying ‘Let’s try it.’ Some things work and some things don’t but at least we’re willing to try them.”

Poirrier developed a model mentoring program at UL Lafayette many years ago that the Louisiana Legislature recently voted to make mandatory for all new nursing faculty in the state as a way to help retain badly needed nurses.

The dean noted that having senior faculty members mentor new colleagues has been so effective that “we expanded that mentoring into helping faculty publish, also. We guide them with their scholarly activities so that they’ll be successful with tenure, so they will be successful in moving forward, with promotions. It’s another way we help our faculty grow and develop.”

Another tool that UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing has used effectively is what Oberleitner describes as “360 degree evaluations.” Faculty are evaluated by administrators, peers and students. They must also conduct a self evaluation.

“ We use the same criteria that we use to evaluate our students. Those components are caring, communication, and critical thinking, the things we feel are most important from our mission and goals,” she said. “In other words, are we walking the talk?”