In celebration of National Nurses Week May 6-12

May 17-23, 2021

By Angelita Faller



UA Little Rock nursing school launches professional development center for healthcare professionals


The University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Nursing has launched the Professional Development Center (PDC) to provide continuing education opportunities for nursing students, healthcare professionals, and emergency response professionals. 


The Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, which is funded by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, awarded the UA Little Rock School of Nursing a $68,357 grant in January 2020 that provided the seed money for the Professional Development Center.


“In 2019, Dr. Sloan Davidson took over the chair position for the school. She had a vision to offer continuing education to the nursing population after they graduated UA Little Rock,” said Dr. Anita Joyce Simmons, assistant professor of nursing and coordinator of the Professional Development Center.  


The center’s mission is to provide state of the art, expert educational content delivered in multiple formats to meet the needs of healthcare professionals while fostering evidence-based practice for their patients.


“Nursing is a lifelong learning process. You never learn everything you need to know in nursing school,” Simmons said. “The most important thing you learn is that if you don’t know something, or have never performed a procedure, you must ask for guidance. This gap in knowledge is where the Professional Development Center’s educational modules fill in. We also have one of the largest schools in the state for graduating RNs which makes this need even more applicable .”


Over the past year, a team from IT Services and the School of Business have collaborated with the School of Nursing to promote and facilitate the continuing education platform.  


The field of healthcare and medicine is constantly evolving through advancements in research and technology. Education is vital to evidence-based care and positive patient outcomes. The courses provide continuing education credits that healthcare professionals need to licensure.


“Evidence shows that patients’ mortality rates improve when they are cared for by nurses with higher education,” Simmons said. “Continuing education courses for nurses can also affect the quality of care and patient outcomes by providing necessary opportunities to improve practice skills and knowledge.”


The UA Little Rock School of Nursing is in the early process of receiving accreditation for the PDC from the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (ANCC). The ANCC is the accrediting body for Schools of Nursing and continuing education. The Professional Development Center also works in conjunction with the School of Nursing’s Center for Simulation Innovation, where they can participate in a simulation to learn new skills to complement the knowledge learned through the continuing education courses. 


“As the center grows, more varied online education formats will be offered, including virtual reality and hybrid courses with simulation activities,” Simmons said. “Interdisciplinary collaboration and negotiations with local community business partners are in plans.”


The Center for Professional Development website went live in January with several continuing education courses that are free until the end of the year. Some of the continuing education courses available on the PDC’s website cover dementia, consumer health informatics, self-care for nursing students, and a series on leadership and management.


“Nurses characteristically are passionate about providing quality care, and have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. They thrive on learning something new,” Simmons said. “Our goal is to help keep those educational flames burning, even for those nurses working full time, in remote areas, or outside of Arkansas.”



Soccer Star Morgan Smocovich to begin nursing career in medical surgical until


 When Morgan Smocovich arrived at UA Little Rock in 2017, she was an active student who liked to volunteer through the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps and and a successful member of the soccer team, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life.


“I really enjoy helping people, and I’m a very much a people person,” she said. “It all goes together. Honestly, I remember one day sitting in my English class talking with my friends and deciding that I wanted to be a nurse.”


Smocovich, a senior nursing major from Frisco, Texas, is graduating this month with an associate degree in nursing and a minor in business administration. She will be moving to Mississippi to work in a medical surgical unit at a hospital.


“I want to work in the NICU eventually, but the hospital decided it’s best for me to practice my skills and get oriented on a med surgical unit first,” she said. “I am very excited. I love to help people in general, and I jumped at the opportunity.”


Smocovich started off at UA Little Rock as a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps during her freshman and sophomore years, where she volunteered for Our House and Make-A-Wish Foundation.


“I really liked being in CLC,” Smocovich said. “I think it’s a good way to get people to meet other people outside your own group. For me, it was the athletic clique. It really helped you get your first-year experience and offered you a group of people you could go to if you needed help.”


In the School of Nursing, Smocovich said her most memorable experiences came through exercises in the UA Little Rock Center for Simulation Innovation, which offers simulation-based clinical learning experiences.


“I remember all of my simulation lab experiences. Even though you are working on simulation machines, you still go into those experiences with all of the fear in your body and your anxiety,” she said. “Your instructors are watching you and you feel like you are in a real hospital setting. They are great learning experiences. They offer room for us to make mistakes, and our instructors will correct us and show us how to do it the right way. I feel like there are some mistakes I will never make again because my instructor was there to walk me through it.”


As a nursing student during the pandemic, Smocovich was also able to assist at community health clinics.


“I volunteered at Health Services, and I was screening people and helping them figure out how to administer their COVID tests,” she said. “I enjoyed being a part of that, and I was glad the university was able to provide the school’s students and employees and members of the community a way to get tested.”


Smocovich also spent the past four years as a student-athlete and is wrapping up her collegiate soccer career. She was named a Second Team All-Sun Belt honoree for the 2020-21 season. She also finished her senior season by writing her name in the Little Rock record books, ranking third in program history for career assists with 15 total.


“I’ve enjoyed being on the soccer team and I love my teammates,” Smocovich said. “Although soccer presented a challenge doing nursing at the same time, it gave me a release. I could go on the game field and the practice field and not worry about my IV insertion skills or stuff like that. I’ve always grown up doing it. It’s fun. I love getting to travel with my teammates. You are with each other 24/7 and it’s been very impactful.”


After her graduation, Smocovich plans to take her NCLEX exam this summer before moving to Mississippi, where she will join her fiancée, Chase Coker. Smocovich and Coker, a former member of the Trojan baseball team, met as student-athletes at UA Little Rock. The two will marry in summer 2022.



UA Little Rock nursing student Jazz Jones quizzed on future


For Jade Jones, the journey to a nursing career began with a front row seat in the world of nursing. She will graduate this month with an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing degree, leading her one step closer to her career as an ICU nurse. Here’s a Q&A with Jones.


Tell us about yourself. 

I am from Little Rock, Arkansas. I started working in healthcare as a cardiac monitor technician when I was 19. My journey as a nursing student at UA Little Rock started May of 2019. 


Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I believe nursing chose me. My interest in nursing started when I accepted my first job in the hospital. It gave me a front row seat of where I would eventually be. I worked closely with nurses, and in my heart I knew I would become a nurse. Nursing to me means to be compassionate, an advocate, a listener, and a caregiver. It also means that no matter who you are, I will take care of you. 


What is your most memorable experience as a nursing student?

When I had my first patient, introducing myself as a nursing student for the first time made me emotional. It was official that my journey had begun. 

National Nurses Week honors the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Who are some of the nurses who have mentored you throughout your time in the nursing program?

My obstetrics clinical instructor Suzanne Branton helped me to build confidence in my skills. My critical care clinical instructor Carrie Wiles gave me interview tips and advice on what to do as a new nurse. I am grateful for their guidance. 


What advice would you give to others hoping to become nurses?

First, be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Study hard from the beginning. Do your very best in your nursing classes early on to set a strong foundation. You are not only studying to pass the test, you are studying because one day patients’ lives will be in your hands. Learn all you can, develop relationships with your classmates, and find a mentor that you can go to for help.


What are your plans after graduating from UA Little Rock?

My main goal is to pass the NCLEX. I will then start my career at UAMS as an ICU nurse. Another one of my goals is to continue my education in nursing. I also plan to volunteer at community healthcare events.


PHOTO CAPTION:  (Photo by Brad Sims)


Members of the Blue & You Foundation and UA Little Rock celebrate a grant to build the School of Nursing Professional Development Center in 2020.


  • Morgan Smocovich
    Morgan Smocovich
  • Jazz Jones
    Jazz Jones