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Generations of Care

School of Nursing celebrates 50th anniversary in 2024

Nursing students and Professor Amy White in the simulation lab

Amy White, assistant professor and director of simulation, directs students during a simulation of a patient in an emergency situation.

From The Ichabod - Winter 2024
Story by Angela Lutz | Photos by Jeremy Wangler

During his 40-year nursing career, Dennis Heusted, bsn ’92, always found the interactions with colleagues and patients most rewarding.

“When I first started, I would walk out of work and just be vibrating with energy from having all of that connection with other people,” he said. “There’s no other job in the world that can give you that. That’s what made me realize this was what I was destined and designed to do. Washburn gave me that opportunity and made me who I am today – I would not be the man or the nurse I am without it, and I will be forever grateful for that.”

Most nurses are drawn to the profession due to an intense desire to help people – or, as Heusted put it, to foster a human connection. He began as a nursing assistant at Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center before earning his degree and working as a bedside nurse in hospitals across the country. He has seen the profession undergo massive transformation, but the desire to help people has remained.

Just like the nursing profession itself, the Washburn University School of Nursing has experienced dramatic changes to help the institution better serve the needs of students and patients. The school celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2024. Since the bachelor of science in nursing program began in 1974, it has seen significant growth. There were only 23 students in the graduating class of Cynthia Hornberger, bsn ’78, adjunct instructor, professor emeritus and former dean. Today, graduating classes average between 70 to 80 students per semester, due largely to increased demand for nurses in Kansas and across the country.

Nursing student in the simulation lab

“The vision was to prepare professional nurses for the area, and we’ve done an excellent job of that,” Hornberger said. “We are still one of the largest baccalaureate programs in Kansas, and it’s had a tremendous impact on the health care of individuals within Topeka and the region.”

“Our graduates are highly sought after, not only because facilities need nurses but because our program has a strong reputation for producing nurses who provide quality care,” added current dean Jane Carpenter, bsn ’80. “We are developing leaders. It’s exciting to see our graduates serving in leadership roles in different institutions across the state and the country.”

Among nursing schools, Washburn was early to recognize the need for a four-year program, and the school has continued to expand its offerings to remain a leader in nursing education by adding graduate education with the doctor of nursing practice degree and the post-graduate psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certificate. To keep up with how students learn, certain programs are taught entirely online. This attracts many diverse students from all over the United States, which is essential at a time when nurses are in such high demand.

Doctor of nursing practice students practice wrapping a cast

(Doctor of nursing practice students participating in an On Campus Experience day this fall. Photo submitted)

“It's a time of fairly significant disruption in traditional higher education methods, certainly accelerated by the pandemic. It has challenged our thinking in terms of the best ways to teach and learn,” Hornberger said. “We are experiencing a nursing shortage, so the pressure is high for us to continue doing a good job to flexibly meet the needs of students so we can produce the number of nurses needed to provide a premier health care system.”

To give students a greater breadth of experience, Washburn has expanded its clinical site offerings beyond Topeka to include multiple locations across the state, as well as implemented state-of-the-art simulations in the classroom to develop clinical judgement and nursing skills. Students can also staff the school’s mobile health clinic, which provides patient care at different community locations. Students can also participate in international experiences. Upcoming trips are planned for Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Japan.

“Health care is lifelong learning,” Carpenter said. “We have to adapt and innovate. We want our nurses to be able to provide safe, effective, high-quality care. We aim to expose students to a wide variety of experiences so they can choose their own path. I’m really proud of the education we provide here – we have a really creative, innovative team.”

Nursing students in the simulation lab

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483