When Darcee Halbrook Rogers earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Arkansas Tech University in December 2019, she had no idea what her professional life would be like one year later.
"The coronavirus had not made its presence in America just yet," said Rogers. "With that being said, I was very excited to graduate and begin my career in the intensive care unit. I was one month off of orientation when we received our first positive COVID patient."
A native of Russellville and graduate of Pottsville High School, Rogers serves her hometown as a nurse at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center.
Her service is one example of Arkansas Tech's influence on health care in Arkansas. ATU conferred 1,184 health care credentials during the 2018-19 academic year, most among all institutions of higher education in the Natural State.
"I chose to go into nursing simply because I have always loved the medical field," said Rogers. "I love the idea of being the reason someone gets to live that day. Science has come such a long way and it is amazing the new technology that we get to use to save people's lives and help them get back to their families."
That mission has brought unprecedented obstacles in 2020. Rogers recalls the logistical challenges of isolating COVID-19 patients and adjusting to full personal protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic.
"To be a nurse in general can be trying at times to say the least," said Rogers. "It can take every ounce of energy from you some days. On the other hand, being a nurse is truly one of the most rewarding professions. We are the ones to hold our patients' hands when they are at their worst and help them get better. Being a nurse during this pandemic makes helping our patients get better so much harder."
Rogers prepared for all of it at Arkansas Tech, which she selected because of the reputation of the nursing program. Her expectations were exceeded.
"ATU's nursing program helped prepare me by teaching me to work hard for what I want," said Rogers. "Nothing comes easy. The (ATU nursing) program made me stronger and I think that is a big reason why I can handle the emotional weight of this pandemic. They also taught me a sense of community. This is not just a job. You have the opportunity to give back to everyone who helped you through the struggles of school. You have the responsibility of somebody's life. They teach you to not take that lightly. They taught me to have pride in what I do. They taught me to be the best version of myself."
She mentioned Dr. Shelly Daily, Dr. Susan Self, Dr. Shaana Escobar, Dr. Carey Ellis Laffoon, Dr. Melissa Darnell and Dr. Terri McKown as some of the ATU nursing faculty members who guided her to graduation day and instilled in her the values of the profession.
"Being a nurse, especially in a small community, you are held to a higher standard and it is up to you to live up to that," said Rogers. "ATU's nursing program and the professors were wonderful examples of what that looked like. You can tell by the way they care for their students and how much effort they put into their work. I think they are the reason I strive to be the best nurse I possibly can be. I would not be where I am today without them."
Rogers has found a similarly supportive network among her new peers.
"We all have different backgrounds and come from different walks of life, but we all have one thing in common --- we stand together," said Rogers. "We are there for one another whether you are a nurse, a certified nursing assistant, management or dietary. Since this pandemic we have all come together even more than before. We have made improvements and suggestions on how we can take better care of our patients and our community. We all have one goal. That is doing what is best for others."
When asked how the public can help health care providers, Rogers had a simple answer: wear a face covering.
"We are literally just trying to keep everyone safe and healthy," said Rogers. "This virus affects everyone differently. Nobody is considered safe from this virus, so help each other and your community. Come together and be part of a solution."
Learn more about the ATU Department of Nursing at www.atu.edu/nursing.