Practice makes perfect

In 2021, the VCU School of Nursing established its long-awaited faculty practice. Through an arrangement with MCV Physicians at VCU Health, the school’s nurse practitioner faculty practice within their specialty up to two days per week through shared contract agreements.

lana sargeant
Lana Sargeant, Ph.D.

The academic-practice model presents myriad new opportunities for the school, both immediate and aspirational. For example, faculty are able to bring current advancements, challenges and professional networks into the classroom. Additionally, the program opens new avenues to identify research and build the school’s reputation. The impact of the faculty practice on the school is both highly visible and easily measured.

“The faculty practice helps support the teaching, scholarship, practice, and service mission of our school,” said Lana Sargent, Ph.D., RN, FNP-C, GNP-BC, associate professor and associate dean of the Office of Practice and Community Engagement. “It has helped the school and VCU Health grow. For example, we’ve developed a formal preceptor support and student education model. VCU Health and the VCU School of Nursing have a shared teaching mission; this work has strengthened the ability to bridge the academic practice gap.”

Established with three faculty, the practice has quickly grown to nine participating faculty. “The first three faculty were leaders and collaborators in the first year of development. Now with nine faculty in the program, we have representation in various specialty practices in both in-patient and out-patient settings,” Sargent said.

A Rich Learning Environment

The faculty practice has had an immediate impact in the classroom. By integrating dynamic real-world experiences into teaching, faculty give precepted students a clear window into their future careers as providers. These enriching precepting opportunities are a bridge, easing the transition between graduation and practice, also known as the academic-practice gap.

a v.c.u. nursing professor consults with a student nurse

For example, while faculty can extoll the benefits of professional networks, modeling it for students within a complex health system such as VCU’s can be far more compelling.

“We talk about the importance of networking to our students but when they can actually see the process occurring during their precepted rotations it sends a powerful message,” said Debra Shockey, D.N.P., RN, CPNP, clinical associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing and one of the founding faculty practice participants. “The nurse practitioner role I hold in inpatient Pediatric Hematology/Oncology is not only a direct care provider but a facilitator of activities. The person that creates the connections to get things done.”

Participating faculty have also said that the practice has enhanced their teaching in new and welcome ways.

"The faculty practice model is a unique opportunity for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to exemplify their skills of teaching, practice and scholarship," said Stephanie Bork, M.S.N., APRN, FNP-B, a clinical instructor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing. "I believe there is a tremendous impact of a faculty practice APRN within both an academic health system and community health models. This has been shown in the early years of our program. These benefits will allow us to grow and expand our faculty practice program to provide a continued impact of APRN educators on the future of NP clinical education, APRN role development and clinical scholarship within the VCU and Richmond community."

Opening New Doors

With the creation of the faculty practice, we have merged practice with academia. The two go hand in hand.

In addition to invigorating teaching, the school’s faculty practice has introduced new avenues for scholarship and interdisciplinary education. Bringing practitioners into the fold of a large, urban academic medical center generates new possibilities for research and novel education models.

“With the creation of the faculty practice, we have merged practice with academia. The two go hand in hand. Through the faculty practice, we have demonstrated that nurse practitioners are flexible and fill a need both inpatient and outpatient. I think it has allowed the students to recognize that a nurse practitioner is a care provider but really encompasses so much more, ” said Shockey.

With the growing success of the school’s faculty practice, VCU is among the forefront of institutions championing a transformative model that seamlessly integrates academic expertise with real-world applications.

“The faculty practice puts VCU School of Nursing on an elevated national platform of nursing school innovators working to bridge the academic practice gap,” said Sargent.