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The New Face of Nursing

Dr. Kimberly Perris leads the reestablishment of HSU’s bachelor of science in nursing program

Four weeks into the job, Humboldt State University’s nursing program Director Kimberly Perris has started putting the pieces in place to reform HSU’s bachelor of science in nursing program.

Perris said she wants to empower local nurses to fill empty leadership roles in local health services.

“My excitement, what I’m hopeful for and why I’m grateful to be here is because I really envision a role for nurses where they can go beyond the hospital walls, work in team-based care models and just take on more autonomous roles,” Perris said.

Director of Special Projects and Executive Director of HSU’s California Center for Rural Policy Connie Stewart at HSU on Sept. 14. Stewart, an HSU graduate and former Arcata mayor, believes HSU’s BSN program will be essential for Humboldt County’s future. Photo by James Wilde.

HSU canceled its BSN program in 2011, citing a lack of funding and qualified faculty. After years of a lack of BSN-educated nurses, HSU is relaunching the BSN program with the help of a $2 million dollar grant from St. Joseph Health.

Director of Special Projects Connie Stewart leads the California Center for Rural Policy, an HSU program designed to improve rural communities. Stewart currently oversees fundraising for the BSN program, and she hinted the receiving of more than just the St. Joseph Health grant.

Stewart, a former Arcata mayor who has served the community for more than thirty years, said that Perris is perfect for the job.

“She’s got really great, fresh ideas about how to improve health care in Humboldt County,” Stewart said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be working with her.”

Stewart emphasized the importance of the BSN program not just for Humboldt County, but for HSU. HSU students and faculty, Stewart noted, need healthcare too.

“I’m grateful that we can provide the opportunity for nurses to expand on their education—I know for me it was life-changing to do that.”

Kimberly Perris

“This program has to be successful in order for HSU to thrive,” Stewart said.

Perris dabbled in health-related fields in her youth, where she said she picked up a passion for helping and educating patients.

Perris graduated with an Associate of Science in Nursing in 1991. She worked in family planning before she worked at the HSU Student Health Center from 2004 to 2016 as a nurse, a job Perris said she loved.

“I loved the education piece of it,” Perris said. “Working there is where I really decided to go back to school, and I saw a role for nurses that could be a little bit more fulfilling and autonomous and help improve access to care.”

Perris earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership from the University of San Francisco in 2018. Perris said she’s driven to give other nurses the same educational opportunities she had.

“I’m grateful that we can provide the opportunity for nurses to expand on their education—I know for me it was life-changing to do that,” Perris said.

HSU’s BSN program is designed for already-registered nurses who want to further their education. Perris said this will allow nurses to become more involved with the community and work outside of hospitals.

HSU’s new BSN nursing program director, Kimberly Perris. Perris is working towards a goal of graduating 50 nurses from the BSN program by 2022. | Photo by James Wilde.

The program’s goal is to graduate 50 nurses in 2022, with 25 students entering a part-time, two-year program in 2020, and another 25 entering a full-time, one-year program in 2021.

Perris said she’s developing relationships with local health centers for BSN nurse roles. She’s also working to make the transfer process from College of the Redwood’s RN program seamless.

CR’s Director of Nursing and Health Operations Roberta Farrar echoed Perris’ hopes.

“My hopes and goals would be to see each class filled to capacity with a waitlist of those wanting to enter the program,” Farrar said in an email. “That the registered nurses who choose Humboldt State are satisfied with their education and use knowledge gained to make necessary changes in any healthcare setting they are employed.”

Both Farrar and Perris said the program won’t bring more nurses to the community, but will instead give more opportunities to nurses in the area, enticing them to stay in Humboldt.

“We have a struggling health care system right now and I think nurses are one of the missing pieces that can help to improve that… The missing links.”

Kimberly Perris

“A lot of nurses leave the area because they want to continue their education or there aren’t the kind of positions that they’re looking for,” Perris said. “So this role will provide more nurse leaders for the community and nurses to have more of a systemic look at the population.”

While Perris said she has felt overwhelmingly supported in her first few weeks, she did acknowledge the pressure of her position.

“I feel pressure because I want this to be successful,” Perris said. “And I want to make sure I have all the details in place to keep moving it forward and not let anything fall in through the cracks.”

Despite the pressure, Perris said she doesn’t have any significant fears.

“There will be likely a little series of things that don’t work, and that’s normal in a new project,” Perris said. “I’m sure there will be some hopefully-just-mini failures because this is a brand-new program, but that’s okay.”

Long-term, Perris said the BSN program will help nurses have a broader understanding of the community and its healthcare needs.

“We have a struggling health care system right now and I think nurses are one of the missing pieces that can help to improve that,” Perris said. “The missing links.”

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