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Nurses for the Next Generation

Posted on May 27, 2020 in 100th Anniversary

Tennessee Wesleyan Program Builds on the Legacy of Fort Sanders School of Nursing

Dr. Lisa Kirkland Vesser with a baby CPR dummy
A graduate of Fort Sanders School of Nursing, Dr. Lisa Kirkland Vesser is carrying on a family tradition. Dr. Vesser is now associate dean of allied health and department chair for nursing at Tennessee Wesleyan University – Fort Sanders Nursing Department.

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center has been part of Dr. Lisa Kirkland Vesser’s life for a very long time.

“My aunt was a graduate of the Fort Sanders Nursing School, and I always idolized her,” Vesser says. “When I was 5 years old, she would come home from work and take off her cap, and I was putting it on.”

Vesser, who holds a doctorate in nursing, has followed in the footsteps of her aunt and the many other men and women who have come through Fort Sanders’ nursing program. The program began 100 years ago, and the first 12 nurses were trained for the opening of Fort Sanders in 1920.

Today, the Fort Sanders Nursing program is a department of Tennessee Wesleyan University. Vesser is associate dean for allied health and department chair for nursing.

For the hospital’s 100th anniversary kick-off celebration, Vesser assembled a display of nurse uniforms. It included the uniform her aunt wore in 1961, alongside the uniform she herself wore as a student at Fort Sanders Nursing School in the 1980s.

“I can remember being in nursing school as a student at Fort Sanders and watching my instructor, Ann Walker,” Vesser says. Walker was a long-time instructor at Fort Sanders School of Nursing and TWU-Fort Sanders Nursing Department, and guided countless students through their nurse training.  “I would sit there as a 20-something student thinking ‘I want to be just like her someday.’”

The partnership with Tennessee Wesleyan continues the Fort Sanders tradition with university-level learning opportunities. Fort Sanders Nursing Department offers a bachelor of science in nursing degree and an RN-to-BSN program for registered nurses who want to earn a baccalaureate degree. Today’s nursing students gain experience that nurses in generations past probably wouldn’t have been able to imagine, and serve in roles from specialized patient care to education and health advocacy.

Leading in Learning

Four nursing uniforms assembled for Fort Sanders Regional's 100th Anniversary Celebration
A display of nursing uniforms from Fort Sanders School of Nursing and Tennessee Wesleyan University – Fort Sanders Nursing Department shows uniforms from the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s alongside the uniform for students in 2020.

Victoria Battershell, the director of the simulation lab, holds the hand of a mannequin that was modeled after an 86-year-old woman. The mannequin’s age spots, freckles, eyelashes and even the veins visible just under her skin were all copied in detail.

With this soft-surfaced and very lifelike mannequin, nursing students are able to practice skills such as CPR and IV insertion. With an IPad program, Battershell is able to simulate different vital signs and functions for the mannequin.

While the simulation experience is incredibly realistic, it only supplements “real patient experience” for nursing students.

“One of the things that sets us apart from the other nursing schools is our affiliation with Fort Sanders Regional,” Vesser says. Clinical rotations at the hospital are part of the nurses’ training.

The clinical difference doesn’t go unnoticed. Vesser says by the time spring break comes around, it’s not uncommon for 90 percent of the graduating students to have job offers – two months before they get their diplomas.

“The community at large still covets our students because the foundation of our program is still based on the legacy of the Fort Sanders School of Nursing program, with clinical time and the hours of hands-on patient care,” Vesser says. “I think that bodes well when we have almost 100 percent job placement before graduation.”