by Mike Lee
Jennifer Gray, RN, Ph.D. has been named the associate dean for the College of Natural Health Sciences at Oklahoma Christian University. And, she has a lot of skills to offer the nursing program as it continues to grow.
“This has been a dream come true for me,” Gray said.
OC will be accepting 40 additional students this fall in its upper division of nursing. One of the new changes for the School of Nursing is additional Space. Heritage Plaza is a building owned by OC just east of Benson Drive. When the lease ran out for tenants, it became available to fill the needs of the nursing program.
The building’s redesign has faculty offices and a laboratory space for students. Clinical space is provided as well as well as for class.
“RN to BSN has always been in a separate space. Now we’re all together,” Gray said. “We’re tickled. We’re thrilled.”
Gray described herself as an Oklahoma girl. She grew up in southwest Oklahoma. He came to OC as a student at the time when OC had an affiliation with then-Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma.
At the time, OC would pay to have five students in the UCO nursing program. So her nursing degree is from Central State. She then began teaching at Red River at Duncan. Gray then went to West Africa, where she worked in a mobile clinic for 20 months.
She came home and met her husband while working in admission nursing at OC and oncology before they moved to Duncan. She taught there and moved to St. Louis where she had a baby.
Her career led her to teach at the John Peters Smith School, the county hospital in Fort Worth. It’s the sister hospital of Parkland in Dallas.
“That hospital still had a vocation nursing program in the hospital,” she said. “I directed and taught in that and started working on my masters at the University of Texas, Arlington. “About the time I finished my masters at UTA, they asked me to come on the faculty. So I came on the faculty there in 1989.”
In the meantime, Gray began working on her Ph.D. at Texas Women’s University. Her doctorate was in Nursing Science, which she earned in 1997. She went on the tenure track and began a new Ph.D. program and became the associate dean there.
She instilled a masters program and most recently started the graduate program at the University of Texas Arlington before coming to Oklahoma Christian University.
“I got where I could retire. As you could imagine, it was stressful,” she continued. “And OC had talked to me several times about coming back to OC. Not too many of the Church of Christ are Ph.D. prepared in nursing. Our nurse faculty need to be members of the church.”
Gray had always stayed connected with OC through the Alumna Association. So she decided to retire from UTA and move professionally to OC.
“I’m really excited, because we are looking at every way we can build our capacity and increase our program,” Gray said. “We’re taking almost a 50 percent greater class this fall. The goal there is to keep moving that up as we can.”
One of the big breaks for any school of nursing is clinical space. OC is getting to where it is capped out in classroom size for clinical studies.
“We will continue to look for other clinical sites, but really expanding much beyond where we are now is going to depend on us figuring other ways to address clinical experiences,” Gray said. “One of those ways will likely be high fidelity simulation. We have kind of medium low simulation right now.”
The Oklahoma Board of Nursing is lobbying the Oklahoma State Legislature to include in the definition of clinical, a certain percentage of simulation,” Gray said. “When that happens, that would help all schools of nursing in that we would not have to be in the acute care facilities as much.”
This will work well because there is still a very critical nursing shortage, Gray said. What makes the OC program unique is the thread of servant leadership, Gray said. Undergrad students either have an experience of going to Honduras or low income local clinics. These experiences let them see how to use a nurse as a Christian with a person with few recourses.
“As you get more graduates, you obviously see your influence grow,” she said. “I’ve been very impressed. This group of faculty are very committed to this program and dedicated, and are really wanting to make it work. And it is. Our percentage of boards passed is going to at least be 85 percent. And we’re excited about that.”