The White Coat Ceremony is in its second year after the nursing program lost its accreditation when the state revoked the university's license in June 2013 due to issues related to curriculum, materials and the pass rates of students on mandatory tests. According to the Nursing Department chairperson Diann Williams, UAPB received its accreditation in spring 2016.

THE ISSUE: UAPB graduates a new class of nurses. THE IMPACT: The Arkansas Delta region is experiencing a nursing shortage, and school officials say the new class will help fill the void.

Rhodis Smith always knew he wanted to become a nurse, and after receiving his white coat during the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's White Coat Ceremony Tuesday night, he's one step closer to fulfilling his dream. Smith and 23 other students were draped in their coats by their professors during an event at the Hathaway- Howard Fine Arts Building.

“It was an exhilarating experience, because as we walk across the stage and we get to that point where we actually get to put on our white coats, it's like we've reached this point that we've worked so tirelessly to get to,” said 21-year-old Smith, reflecting on receiving his coat. “It's a wonderful feeling to know that we're able to actually go into the clinical setting and perform the skills that we've worked to gain.”

Nearly 40 years ago, Nancy Brown, who served as the event's keynote speaker, graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Nursing Program in its inaugural class. Now, Brown is the chief nursing executive and senior vice president for CHI St. Vincent Health System in Little Rock.

“This is the day that you start the first page of your nursing story,” Brown said to students. “Many prominent leaders have guided our way in nursing and today you begin that personal journey yourself.”

As someone who worked her way up the ladder by starting out as nurse's aide, Brown offered advice to students in the form of five tips to remember throughout their journey: be a role model, live the dream, challenge the process, create a team effort and nurture the heart.

“Set an example by educating yourself and doing what you say you will do are examples of how you can be a role model,” she said. “Just being here today, you are modeling the way for women and men to follow in your footsteps in nursing.”

Brown encouraged students to be an example to others in showing the world that through hard work and determination anything is possible.

“Start small and dream big and follow that dream,” she said.

Brown also let students know that even though they may experience tough times, the reward in nursing is knowing that they helped someone; she urged them not to forget that during those instances.

“Remember that you've chosen a profession that is consistently ranked number one in the polls as the most trusted profession — it's a trust that has been placed in us by society and one that should not be wasted or taken for granted,” Brown said. “Bearing witness to someone's intimate world during illness, injury… isn't always glamorous as a nurse. It can be exhausting, stressful, and many times thankless, but it takes courage and strength of character to be a nurse, and I know that if you made it this far in the process you've done the kind of soul searching that it will take to inspire you to be a great nurse.”

The ceremony is in its second year after the nursing program lost its accreditation when the state revoked the university's license in June 2013 due to issues related to curriculum, materials and the pass rates of students on mandatory tests. According to the Nursing Department chairperson Diann Williams, UAPB received its accreditation in spring 2016. The program, which is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Education in Nursing, presented white coats to 36 students last year.

“This ceremony is one that is basically recognition of the students, because they have reached a certain milestone in the program,” said Williams, who is a 1978 graduate of the program. “They have gotten to the point where we think they are safe practitioners, and that means that the teachers will now carry them into the different clinical sites — they'll go into hospitals, and they'll go into nursing homes. But we know at this point that they have developed the skills that they need to be safe practitioners to take care of patients.”

UAPB offers two programs for students to study — a generic and an RN-to-BSN completion track. According to the university's website, both tracks are approved by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education; the generic track is approved by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing.

“This program fills a huge gap not just for UAPB, but for the state of Arkansas,” Williams said. “We're in the delta, and there's a huge nursing shortage in the delta region; that shortage has increased, because we just don't have as many nurses in the region as we need to have. So, in terms of the significance of this program, it's extremely significant because we're helping with the workforce in the area and there's also a huge interest on this campus in the nursing program.”