The West Texan: Keeping the Panhandle Healthy


In 2005, a worsening case of pneumonia hospitalized Dr. Debbie Davenport for 11 days.

WestTexan-Spring2022-COVER-FINALPhoto: This article originally appeared in the Spring ’22 issue of The West Texan. Click the image to read the entire issue.

She was assigned to the intensive care unit at Baptist St. Anthony Health System and awaited surgery to remove part of her lung.

But when Davenport woke from the procedure, she knew she would be in good care. The two nurses standing over her were former students of hers—graduates from West Texas A&M University’s Department of Nursing.

“I looked up and thought, I’m going to be just fine,” she said. “I was so proud in that moment.”

Davenport’s students were two of thousands of nurses who have been trained and educated at WT, now for 50 years.

WT marks its long tradition of excellence in nursing this year—half a century after it opened its Department of Nursing in 1972.

“All of our graduates are fantastic,” said Davenport, who taught in the program for more than 30 years and retired in 2019. “They make a difference wherever they go.”

A Legacy

WT began its two-year nursing program in 1972, one of the first baccalaureate nursing programs in Texas.

In 1974, WT—at the time, West Texas State University—graduated 14 students out of the program. Kathy Shipp was one of them.

“I was at another university when I heard about WT offering this new nursing degree, and transferred there for my last year,” Shipp said.

Since her graduation, Shipp has taught nursing (she has been on the faculty at WT since 2013). She obtained her family nurse practitioner certificate from WT in 1994 and operates a private family practice. And Shipp also serves as the president of the Texas Board of Nursing, appointed first by former Gov. Rick Perry and reappointed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

She is a snapshot of the success that WT’s nursing graduates have earned since the program was established.

“In 50 years of graduates, we know this program and our graduates have made a difference,” said Dr. Holly Jeffreys, head of the nursing department.

WT’s nursing graduates include notables Anita Perry, former First Lady of Texas and longtime healthcare advocate who also was part of the first graduating class in 1974; and Casie Stoughton, director of public health for the City of Amarillo, who provided oversight during the region’s COVID-19 response.

“WT has had a strong legacy of producing very qualified and high-level practicing registered nurses,” Shipp said.

In 2021, WT’s nursing program relocated to the Baptist Community Services Nursing Education Floor on the second floor of the Harrington Academic Hall WTAMU Amarillo Center in downtown Amarillo. The program currently includes a faculty and staff of 25, with a total of 662 students enrolled from pre-nursing to graduate level.

Admittance into the program has nearly doubled in the past two years since Jeffreys was named department head. As hospitals in the region faced nursing shortages, WT sought to respond by creatively expanding the program.

“Right now, we’re focused on strengthening the degree offerings and leaving our mark on healthcare in the Texas Panhandle,” Jeffreys said.

Not to Ourselves Alone

That “mark” is distinctive.

WT’s philosophy of nursing education is aimed not just at training nursing skills, but modeling nursing values, Jeffreys said.

“We want to demonstrate to each individual student genuine concern and kindness, because our hope is that they will demonstrate those qualities to their patients. It’s a purposeful effort, and it’s part of the success of our students.”

That motto—which Jeffreys said reflects the culture of the Texas Panhandle—is etched on every nursing graduate’s pin.

The pin, specially designed by Eddie Garner, another 1974 graduate of the nursing program, features the Latin phrase, “Non Nobis Solum.” It means, “Not to ourselves alone.”

“That’s what nursing exemplifies for me,” Shipp said. “It is a profession, a job—but we’re doing it to serve others. To care for others and respond to their needs.”

The nursing program’s handbook summarizes the program’s holistic approach this way: “We believe caring, commitment, honesty, integrity, dependability, respect, responsibility, accountability and initiative are values which are central to nursing scholarship.”

Davenport estimates she has helped educate more than 2,000 nurses during her tenure — and those values are impressed on each one.

“Our graduates have the right mentality for taking care of people,” she said. “The students have heart. They have compassion. They really are excellent.”

‘WT Has Prepared Me’

“Nurses are the constant in healthcare,” Shipp said. “They’re the ones who staff hospitals 24/7 – they’re foundational.”

And yet, nurses are in high demand. Texas faces one of the worst nursing shortages in the U.S., which means that educating new nurses is crucial, especially in rural areas like the Texas Panhandle.

“For the most underserved areas, it’s critical that we continue to train nurses,” Jeffreys said.

Gage Climer, 22, graduated from WT this May, and before the end of the month, he had finished his first week as a nurse in the surgical intensive care unit at Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo.

Climer is not the only WT nursing graduate who opts to remain and work in the region. WT currently provides about 70 percent of nurses employed throughout the Texas Panhandle.

“I grew up here,” said Climer, who is from Bushland. “And for me to get a degree here, and then use that degree in the community, helping people heal, that’s important to me.

“And from everything I’ve seen so far, WT has prepared me for working in healthcare.”

Davenport boasted that WT’s affordability and the nursing program’s quality examination pass rates are two factors that make WT an exceptional choice for prospective nursing students.

And a bachelor’s degree in nursing adds significant value in the workforce.

“When you have nurses who are prepared at the bachelor’s level, statistics show that those nurses can greatly improve patient longevity and quality of life.” Jeffreys said.

WT’s commitment to offering a high-quality nursing program will continue as the university enters the next 50 years.

“I want to become the best nurse possible,” Climer said. “I want to provide care and touch as many lives as I can. To use my skills to make the community a better place. And WT has given me that opportunity.”


Photo: Faculty and staff from the WT Department of Nursing pose in this undated photo from the 1980s.


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