Jan. 4, 2008 | Nursing faculty Richard and JoAnn Hennessy Smith of Searcy already had more than 50 years of nursing experience behind them when they joined the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Nursing faculty in the early 1990s.
Today they’re looking ahead to retirement from jobs that have challenged and fulfilled them.
“Nursing has created great opportunities for us,” Richard said. “We started in the classroom and we’re ending our careers teaching online, so we’ve moved right along with the times.”
JoAnn, a Little Rock native, was the first immediate high school graduate to work as a nurse’s aid in the UAMS Emergency Department in 1959. After graduating from the UAMS College of Nursing with a bachelor’s degree, she joined the U.S. Navy. She retired from the Navy in 1989 and moved with her husband from Seattle to Arkansas to be near her aging mother.
Their plan was for Richard to fulfill his dream to focus on teaching and for JoAnn to stay at home with their two young daughters. They moved to Searcy, where Richard joined the faculty at Harding University. JoAnn’s stay-at-home-mom plan was interrupted when word of her credentials got out. She was courted by Harding and on the payroll less than a year after arriving in Searcy.
In 1994 Richard joined UAMS’ College of Nursing, and JoAnn followed in 1995.
“UAMS is the premier institution for health education of all stripes – whether it’s nursing, allied health, medicine or pharmacy,” Richard said. “We just wanted to be a part of that.”
Since joining UAMS, the Smiths have racked up teaching awards from their students, their peers and the institution’s leaders.
This year they each were awarded a UAMS Chancellor’s Faculty Teaching Award. Other awards include Outstanding R.N.-B.S.N. (Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree) Faculty in the College of Nursing, which JoAnn has won the last three years.
Richard’s teaching awards at UAMS also include two Classroom Teaching Excellence Awards, two Best Clinical Instructor Awards and Most Supportive Faculty Award.
“The expression, ‘sage on stage’ fits him,” JoAnn said. “When he has an audience he’s really a performer. He engages the students so much that they even forget to take notes.”
Richard said he enjoys clinical work but has found that teaching is even more rewarding.
“I can extend myself exponentially as a clinician through those I teach,” Richard said. “As I prepare to retire I can look around and see a whole lot of faculty who were former students.”
Their former students recall the Smiths as teachers who cared about their success.
Teri Landrum, also now a faculty member at the College of Nursing, said the Smiths left lasting impressions.
Richard was Landrum’s adviser in the R.N. to B.S.N. program and kept her focused on the promise of the future once she had her advanced degree.
“At times, with work and family demands, it was hard,” she said. “It was only with Richard’s support and encouragement that I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
JoAnn, she said, made such an impression during her leadership courses that Landrum knew almost immediately what career path she would pursue.
“I have had several role models, but JoAnn had such a professional and caring demeanor, I just hoped that one day I could be even an ounce like her,” said Landrum, who went on to earn her Master’s of Nursing Science Degree at UAMS and is now a clinical instructor.
In 1999, the College of Nursing and the Smiths were among the first in the country to teach an online education curriculum for registered nurses pursuing a Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree.
Although Richard lost his classroom audiences when he became almost exclusively an online instructor, he’s adapted from “sage on stage” to “guide on the side,” JoAnn said with a smile.
The Smiths are cheerleaders for the online program because it has enabled rural Arkansas nurses to raise their education level without having to come to Little Rock.
“The nurses are proving to themselves that they can do this, and then they enroll in our master’s program, so we now have more nurse practitioners throughout the state than we’ve ever had,” JoAnn said. “These nurses now have become our preceptors for future students enrolled in courses out in their areas.”
“The College of Nursing has always worked to be at the forefront,” Richard said. “Whether it’s bringing the first Ph.D. program to the state or expanding its online nursing education curriculum, just being a part of that is what’s been satisfying.”