First Students, Most Recent Graduates Share Experiences

Sister Ursula Herrera, B.S.N., RN (third from left), and Linda Fletcher, M.S.N., B.S.N. (fourth from right), with fellow students enrolled in the first summer session of 1970. They are posed in front of the fountain which used to be in front of the medical school.

50 Years Separates Initial Students from May Graduates

By Catherine Duncan
In January 1970, Loraine (Santos) Buntley was one of the first four students of the San Antonio component of the newly established University of Texas System School of Nursing. With the four founding faculty members, these first students met in borrowed space from the UT Medical School at San Antonio, which had opened its doors in September 1968.

“I remember we carried heavy books, and we spent a lot of time in the library. There wasn’t any technology back then so you read a lot of books. I recall going to the library and looking up reference materials,” she said.

Buntley, B.S.N., RN, said during that first semester, the students truly received one-on-one attention. “If there was something you didn’t understand, professors spent the time with you. We were such a small class. It was a unique experience.”

She remembers working hard on creating patient care plans. “We would get information about a patient a day or two before we met him or her. We looked at the chart, and we had to create a care plan. Next, we would meet and interact with the patient. We would then update our care plan as necessary.”

Buntley, who had completed her prerequisite clinical course in nursing fundamentals at UT Austin, was the only one of the original four students to participate in the first commencement on May 15, 1971. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing with honors at a combined UT System commencement at Batts Hall Auditorium on the UT Austin campus.

After graduation, she first worked in newborn nursery, male orthopaedics and surgical intensive care. She served as a civilian nurse for 11 years at Fort Sam Houston. Buntley took a pediatrics ICU position at Methodist Hospital and retired from there in 2012 after 28 years of service.

“If there was something you didn’t understand, professors spent the time with you. We were such a small class. It was a unique experience.”

— Loraine (Santos) Buntley, B.S.N., RN

Loraine (Santos) Buntley in the 1971 Curandero yearbook.

NEW NURSING SCHOOL OPENS

Linda Fletcher, M.S.N., B.S.N., retired lieutenant colonel with the Army Nurse Corps, began college at then San Antonio Junior College with English as a major. She worked part time as a dental assistant and became interested in pursuing a nursing career.

Fletcher was surprised to learn the UT System was opening a nursing program in San Antonio at that time and was delighted when founding Dean Margretta Styles, Ed.D, RN, FAAN, agreed to meet with her regarding possibly enrolling in the program. Fletcher said Dr. Styles had a powerful but warm and inviting presence. When Dr. Styles encouraged her to apply, Fletcher was ecstatic and “over the rainbow” when accepted.

Fletcher said, in retrospect, she sees how progressive the new UT nursing program was. It was a time of a severe nursing shortage, and there was a need to propel nurses into the realm of being a professional rather than a handmaiden, she explained.

“In order to make the shift, a heavy emphasis was placed on theory, and hands-on nursing was no longer the sole or central point of the educational focus. This much-needed shift toward making nursing a profession was successful, and the reintegration of teaching hands-on clinical competence came soon thereafter,” she said.

Fletcher believes as a student in this program, she participated in a bold new approach to escalating the stature of nurses in society, and Dr. Styles and the nursing school were crucial players in forging the way.

After graduating in May 1972 with a B.S.N. earned on a U.S. Navy scholarship, Fletcher was sent to St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, New York. After fulfilling her required stint there, she worked a few months in the civilian sector before being accepted by the U.S. Army for a scholarship to obtain a graduate degree in trauma nursing from Texas Woman’s University. By quirks of fate, she spent the majority of her Army career in infection control. She became a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention certified instructor and served as the consultant to the Surgeons General for Europe and Southeast Asia. She retired after completing 22 years of service.

After retiring from the Army, she formed a corporation that provided medical case management service for insurance agencies and later became involved in elder care in Florida by forming companies providing nonmedical and nursing in-home care and by opening an adult day care center.

Fletcher currently lives in Traverse City, Michigan, where for the last 15 years she has been extensively involved in the study of PTSD and suicide in veterans. She formed a nonprofit organization called A Matter Of Honor to educate Americans about these issues.

THE NEXT 12 STUDENTS

Sister Ursula Herrera, B.S.N., RN, attended high school at the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne convent before completing her prerequisites at Our Lady of the Lake University and the University of the Incarnate Word. She heard about the new nursing school in San Antonio and was able to begin classes with 11 other students in the summer of 1970.
“My first impression was that we will get a lot of personal attention with only 12 students. We sat in a circle in class, and we all received a lot of help from our professors,” she said.
Herrera said clinical training was different back then. “We did a lot of practicing on each other. I had fantastic veins on my hands so I was the vein model. We had a manikin but nothing like they have today. Now, they are very high tech. We used the manikin for changing bed sheets and doing basic skills.”

After graduating with a B.S.N. on May 19, 1973, in what is now known as the Holly Auditorium on campus, Herrera worked as a nurse at the small general Benedictine hospital and nursing home in San Antonio. In the 1980s, she specialized in rehabilitative nursing and became a certified rehab nurse.

In 1996, she was called to Eagle Pass to begin a border ministry for the Benedictine Sisters. She has been director of the Benedictine Sisters’ Caridad de Corazon (Charity of the Heart) ministry since 2000. She also worked as a certified diabetes educator to local residents. She provided diabetes education for 20 years before retiring in 2018.

“The professors weren’t just talking at me. They Talked with me. And, they had an open door policy if you had questions. They really want you to succeed.”

— Damar Powell-Davis

Jennifer Morales (from left), Damar Powell-Davis and Stephen Lacoss recently earned their B.S.N. degrees. They completed an undergraduate program marked by technology and team-based learning.

BENEFITING FROM 50 YEARS

These first graduates had a very unique experience attending classes in the school’s infancy. Today’s students and recent graduates benefit from 50 years of academics, research, patient care and community engagement. The B.S.N. graduates of May 2019 each have their own journey that led them to the School of Nursing.

Damar Powell-Davis came to the nursing school upon receiving an honorable discharge after four years in the Navy. From Tyler in East Texas, he served in the military so he could attend school on the GI bill. While in Japan, he met his wife of five years, Vanessa Powell-Davis, who serves in the U.S. Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base. They are parents to Blake, age 2.

He decided to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), which is a group of university-based officer training programs for training commissioned officers of the U.S. Armed Forces, at UT San Antonio. Powell-Davis completed his two years of prerequisites for nursing and additional ROTC training and classes at UTSA.

“My mother suggested a career in medicine. She and my two aunts are nurses. In the Navy, I enjoyed being a medic. I decided the perfect career for me would be serving as a nurse in a hospital setting for the military,” said Powell-Davis, who graduated in May 2019 and was commissioned into the Air Force with his first duty station at the hospital on Travis Air Force Base in California.

“I believe I am truly prepared to work as a critical care nurse in the intensive care unit at a military hospital. As a student and a veteran, I really benefitted from the professors who are retired military. They were able to give me additional instruction because they knew I would be a military nurse,” he added. “And, the amount of clinical hours I was able to do at the hospital makes me feel confident about my ability to work as a nurse after graduation.”
Powell-Davis said he really enjoyed the learning environment at the School of Nursing. “The professors weren’t just talking at me. They talked with me. And, they had an open door policy if you had questions. They really want you to succeed.”

FINDING HER CALLING

Jennifer Morales, who first earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic medicine at UTSA, said after completing a senior-year internship in her planned career of physical therapy, she figured out it wasn’t the career for her. She worked two years as a patient care tech at Methodist Transplant Hospital, where she decided she wanted to become a nurse.

“I learned I really want to be with people, and I enjoyed the long hours. I want the constant communication with people. The patient interaction was my favorite part of working in the hospital,” she said.

Morales, who said colleagues tell her she has a bubbly personality, learned she could use her naturally positive demeanor to help patients with chronic conditions. “I work to keep them as comfortable as possible and ask them about their lives. I feel I have a calling to help people who are dealing with medical issues.”

She decided to earn her nursing degree at UT Health San Antonio for several reasons: cost effectiveness, the nursing school’s reputation, and the invaluable clinical experience because of long-held partnerships.

Nursing school was very different than what she anticipated. “I was shocked to learn how hard nursing school is here. I didn’t understand the scope of knowledge that nurses must have. We have to make decisions quickly and use critical thinking.”

The Student Success Center was so helpful and supportive, she said. “The center helped me get a tutor when I really needed assistance with a class. In my second semester, I became a peer mentor so I could help students who were just starting. I checked on them regularly and explained to them what to expect. Mentoring was a great way to start friendships too.”

Morales earned her B.S.N. in May. She performed her immersion clinical hours in the surgical ICU at the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital and hopes to work there after passing the National Council Licensure Examiniation (NCLEX).

A SECOND CAREER

Stephen Lacoss earned a bachelor of arts in English from the University of Kansas. He taught English and math at a for-profit, vocational school in Manhattan. For years, he worked in the art world but started thinking he had missed his calling in life.

“When I decided to pursue nursing, I had a liberal arts background so I had a lot of prerequisites to take. For four years, I took two courses at a time at a community college in New York City. I was living in Brooklyn and waiting tables. I knew I couldn’t afford to live there and not work while in nursing school.

“My sister and her family live in San Antonio so I had come here to see them. During one visit, my sister drove me to UT Health where I was introduced to the nursing school’s director of admissions. I saw how affordable school is here,” he said. “I packed up all my belongings in Brooklyn and drove to Texas. I was so fortunate I could live with my sister and her family.”

Lacoss said he didn’t know what to expect in nursing school, but he soon learned the considerable changes since he got his first bachelor’s degree. “Everything is on the computer now. You had to get a computer when you started. My previous classwork for my English degree had all been handwritten. Now everything is digital. We use an online academic platform called Canvas. Professors communicate to all their students through Canvas.” (Canvas is a cloud-based Learning Management System that can be used online, on mobile or on tablet.)

Each student has secure, individualized access to see grades, turn in assignments and take quizzes and exams, he explained. All curriculum, assignment and syllabi are posted on Canvas.

Like his classmate, Lacoss credits the Student Success Center as an important part of his success at the School of Nursing. “When we started, we were assigned a peer mentor, who helps you in so many ways. The mentor is a semester ahead of you in school and takes you on a tour of campus. Your mentor gives you great advice and facilitates tutors and supplemental instruction classes. I took advantage of all these resources,” he said.

While a student, Lacoss—with assistance from other male students including Powell-Davis—re-established the Men in Nursing organization on campus. Lacoss served as president of the social, service and mentorship organization. “As more and more men enter the nursing profession, we thought this organization was important to revive. We brought in speakers who discussed the male experience in nursing. We sought opportunities to be of service to the school and the community.

“We also put in place new officers so there are successors who can make sure there is uninterrupted continuation of the association,” he added.

Lacoss performed his clinical immersion hours in the medical ICU at the VA hospital. He would like to work in critical care in a hospital after passing his NCLEX.


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In the 2019 issue of Tribute

Tribute is the official magazine for the alumni and friends of the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Read and share inspiring stories highlighting our alumni, faculty and students who are revolutionizing education, research, patient care and critical services in the communities they serve.

View the 2019 issue

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