CHI St. Vincent VP Brenda Baird Supports Continuing Education for Nurses

Brenda Baird may be vice president and chief nursing executive at CHI St. Vincent, but she is also still in school.

So Baird can identify with the nurses taking part in the UALR nursing scholarship program CHI St. Vincent offers.

“Nurses have to be continually educated,” says Baird, who is pursuing her doctorate. “There’s new technology. There’s new evidence.”

As part of the health system’s ongoing efforts to promote nursing excellence, the scholarship program was begun this fiscal year. Qualifying students must be CHI St. Vincent nurses pursuing a bachelor’s or associate’s degree through UALR and be accepted into the school’s nursing program.

“This is for nurses giving patient care and going back to school,” Baird, 57, says. “We want to invest in our nurses.”

Two scholarships, of either $1,000 or $2,000, are awarded each year for both the fall and spring semesters, though the CHI St. Vincent Foundation is hoping to raise money — through events like this month’s IV Party on the Edge — to fund more as well as improve its simulation lab, a vital tool for educating not just nurses but medical personnel across the board.

Nursing scholarship applicants must meet with an interview panel, present an essay about a specific core value, have letters of reference and a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA in the UALR nursing program and a minimum 2.8 GPA in nursing classes.

“We are constantly stressing and encouraging our nurses to stay in school,” Baird says.

Though relatively new, the scholarship program is already having a positive impact.

Little Rock native Jennifer Sparks, 39, who works at 4 West Surgical on the St. Vincent campus, will complete her bachelor’s degree in nursing at UALR in May. The scholarship money she earned gave her a welcome break from working two jobs and putting in 60- to 70-hour weeks to afford school while also caring for her 9-year-old daughter Ainsley.

“Being a single mom, that’s pretty important to actually see your kid … while trying to finish some of your goals,” Sparks says.


Baird was born in St. Mary’s, Ohio, and has been in Little Rock for more than seven years after moving from Corpus Christi, Texas.

She got her associate’s degree at the University of Tennessee-Martin, her bachelor’s at Tennessee State, her master’s at the main UT campus in Knoxville and is now getting her doctorate in nursing practice online through the University of South Alabama.

“So I’m currently in school and not loving it, by the way,” she says jokingly.

But Baird is definitely gung-ho about continuing education for nurses.

“Of course our journey to nursing excellence is about patient outcomes,” she says.

It was such an outcome that set Baird on her career path. She had a high school classmate who was injured in a car accident, and seeing the care her friend received and the impact it had on her friend’s family was an inspiration.

“The nurses made a difference in that family’s life and that piqued my interest in nursing.”

Baird says the Institute of Medicine has recommended that organizations achieve 80 percent of bachelor of science-prepared nurses by 2020. With BSN nurses leading teams “the evidence suggests better patient outcomes,” she adds.

In 2012, 38.4 percent of St. Vincent nurses were BSN prepared and the current percentage is 42.

“So we are increasing those every year,” Baird says. “Thus the scholarship dollars.”

Lab Project

The general surgeons with whom Sparks works have to deal with some medical overflow, which can include trauma cases. She says the workload can range from appendectomies to treating victims of auto accidents or gunshot wounds.

“You have to remember a lot of what you learned in school,” she says.

A segment of Sparks’ learning has taken place in UALR’s on-campus sim lab, which she says is more detailed and better equipped than the one at CHI St. Vincent. In fact, based on her experience, Sparks was tasked with making a sim lab presentation to the St. Vincent Foundation board.

“I knew how beneficial it was for me as a nursing student but it could still be used by the nursing staff,” Sparks says.

The St. Vincent sim lab features three, lifelike, controller-operated mannequins, two male and one “mom” which is able to deliver a baby. The mannequins can be programmed with different ailments and conditions, mimicking heart rates and breathing, and are speech capable and can describe their symptoms.

While Baird is a champion of ongoing education for nurses, she points out that the sim lab has value for everyone, not just nurses and nurses in training. Any staff member caring for a patient can use the lab to educate himself on everything from assessing patients’ conditions to recognizing potential tripping hazards in the room.

It is all designed to present the most realistic treatment scenarios possible.

“The scholarships are for nurses but the simulation lab is for all caregivers,” Baird says.

But the lab, currently located in adjoining classrooms on the St. Vincent campus, is not yet a complete replica of a real-world patient’s room.

CHI St. Vincent wants to renovate and expand the lab with two more mannequins and an auditorium, what Baird calls “education space” while also presenting a realistic hospital room environment right down to the doorknobs.

Also, Baird says, CHI St. Vincent wants the ability to remotely include medical personnel at its other facilities (Hot Springs, Sherwood, Morrilton) in simulation debriefings, rather than having them come to Little Rock.

Popping Up

This year’s St. Vincent Foundation fundraiser is the IV Party on the Edge, scheduled for April 25 at the Dreamland Ballroom in Little Rock. For some time the location was kept hush-hush in order to preserve its “pop-up” theme, which reflects the urban trend toward events and parties that “pop up” in unexpected or offbeat places.

“What hasn’t changed is our promise to partygoers that once they arrive at the IV party they can relax and enjoy an exciting evening out,” said Laura Cook, CHI St. Vincent senior vice president and chief development officer. “There are no presentations, no auctions or raffle tickets to purchase.”

The Dreamland Ballroom, on the National Register of Historic Places, has featured legendary performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and B.B. King.

The party is presented this year by Rush Harding, CEO and co-founder of Crews and Associates, and his wife Linda, while the honorary chair is Verizon South Central Region President Kristi Crum.

It is hoped the IV Party on the Edge can help fund three additional scholarships, endowed for $10,000, as well as the renovations and additional mannequins for the sim lab.

“Nurses do have to continually educate themselves to stay abreast of changes and evidence,” Baird says. “So education is the foundation for safe, effective care.”

IV Party on the Edge

When: 6:30 p.m. benefactor event;  8 p.m. main event, Saturday, April 25  
Where: Dreamland Ballroom
Tickets: $500 per benefactor; $175 per person for main event  
Presenters: Rush and Linda Harding   
Honorary Chair: Kristi Crum

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