At the age of 26, Shannon Smith got some news that changed the course of her life. She was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. The doctors didn’t give her much hope, but with a husband and young children, she fought on.
Part of what she remembered most about her ordeal were the nurses and other healthcare professionals who cared for her. So much so, that Smith, who had a degree in accounting, decided that if she survived, she would follow her passion.
“God spared me so I could become a nurse,” Smith said. “I got the chance to reevaluate my life and to do what God called me to do.”
Almost 30 years later -- and now Dr. Shannon Smith -- she not only attended nursing school but is now an associate professor and the director of Claflin University’s Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelors of Science in Nursing Program.
Claflin launched the program during the 2016 fall semester with 12 students. It is the only HBCU in South Carolina that offers a degree in nursing. The program provides registered nurses with an associate degree from an accredited program an accelerated pathway to earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Most students can complete the program in less than 18 months. Classes are offered online, and students are required to spend only one Saturday each month at Claflin’s Orangeburg campus for intensive sessions and presentations.
Claflin received approval last May from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to start the nursing program, which enhances the university’s focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. The program will also contribute to the region's workforce by producing visionary leaders in nursing and other healthcare professions.
“It was incredible that we were ready for classes only three months after we received SACSCOC approval,” said Dr. Karl S. Wright, provost at Claflin University. “The approval of the BSN program from SACSCOC was the culmination of a strategic approach and the exceptional work of our leadership team.”
Claflin has signed agreements with nearby Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College to admit students who have an associate degree in nursing and with the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg which is encouraging its registered nurses to earn bachelor’s degrees.
“I’m so excited about the nursing program at Claflin,” Smith said. “This is an excellent opportunity for the students, but it’s a great opportunity for the community and this state. Orangeburg is centrally located; it's an easy commute from anywhere in the state for students who must attend the Saturday class."
She added, “Research shows that hospitals with nurses with bachelor’s degrees have better patient outcomes. We have the opportunity to serve the community by improving health outcomes. We can serve the individual by helping students earn a degree. This is a positive move for everybody involved.”
Smith’s entire life seems a preparation for this new position. She received her B.S. degree in nursing and master's in adult health nursing from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing. In addition, Smith earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of South Carolina. She is board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a clinical nurse specialist in adult health, the American Board of Certification for Gastroenterology Nurses in gastroenterology nursing and the National League for Nursing as a certified nurse educator. Smith also completed training in online teaching through the University of Phoenix and attained Advanced Online Teaching Certification through the Online Learning Consortium (formerly SLOAN-C).
All that hasn’t dulled Smith’s memory of what it was like to go to school, work a job and care for a family -- a situation shared by many of her present students. Once she decided to go to nursing school, she and her husband, whom she calls a saint, agreed that she wouldn’t work. But having to buy braces for her child changed all that, and Smith took a job.
“I know it can be done because I’ve had to do it,” she said. “I want them to know that what they are doing is just for a season and they have to do what’s necessary to get through the season. I’ve told my faculty at Claflin that everyone who desires an education deserves our help. We will do what is needed to support our students and help them graduate.”
Smith understands the anxiety some adult learners experience when they decide to enroll in online programs. During orientation, she encountered a student whose only experience with working online was sending and receiving emails.
“Some students will need additional assistance with working in an online environment,” Smith said. “Claflin has success coaches who are assigned by the Center for Professional and Continuing Studies. They help students get acclimated to working online and focusing on their academic responsibilities. Their goal is to make sure students are successful.”
Smith is one of 13 children. She is from a small community in Colleton County called Ritter so she knows what it's like to be from a small, rural community.
“I can be that spokesperson for the working mom, the person from a small town, or the person who wants more but isn’t sure how to get it,” she said. “I work with my students with the same passion and concern I had for my patients.”
Claflin will accept new students in the RN to BSN program each semester, and Smith is hoping to get at least 30 students in each cohort. But she has also set her sights higher. She is making plans for a master’s degree nursing program at Claflin. Again, not just to help individuals, but to ensure that there are nurse educators ready to prepare the next generation of nurses and healthcare providers.
“There are great opportunities here,” Smith said. ‘The master’s program will help with the nursing faculty shortage. There are opportunities for growth, and we want to grow this program so it works for Claflin, the local community and the state.”
Grand plans for a woman who, after 30 years of working for the state, was considering retirement. “I was praying about retirement,” said Smith, who previously served as an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Nursing’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science, RN-BSN, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Ph.D. programs.
“I was praying, but God was silent. I was getting frustrated. But He just hadn’t spoken,” she said.
That’s about the time that a colleague told Smith about the opening at Claflin. She applied, went to the interview and after being told about the plans, accepted the position.
“I’m like a kid with a cookie jar,” Smith said. “I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have to work but I want to work. This is more about service than employment. I want to meet the needs of the population. I see what is possible and I want to do what I can to help.
“I’m grateful God has shown me favor and given me this opportunity. You don’t choose God’s favor. When He gives it to you, you accept it and walk in it. I can’t wait to see all that we are going to do.”