Pulse of the community

Chico State’s School of Nursing director offers a rich background in education and practical experience to the Enloe Board of Trustees

Carol Huston is looking forward to bringing a nursing perspective to the Enloe Board of Trustees.

Carol Huston is looking forward to bringing a nursing perspective to the Enloe Board of Trustees.

Photo by Meredith j. Graham

Carol Huston has a pretty big year ahead of her. In August she’ll celebrate 30 years on the faculty at Chico State, where she serves as director of the School of Nursing, and earlier this month she joined the Enloe Medical Center Board of Trustees.

For Huston, her two roles have a natural connection.

“If you look at Enloe, its mission is to improve the quality of life for people in the North State in terms of health care. At Chico State, we hope to improve quality of life through education,” Huston said by phone recently while on vacation in Hawaii. “It’s all about making for a better community.”

Her roles come together in other ways as well. For starters, before joining the Chico State staff in 1982, she was a nurse at Enloe. While there, she worked in the Intensive Care Unit and helped start the hospital’s cardiac rehab program.

Since making the shift to education, Huston has earned many accolades in her field. She’s co-authored four books and more than 80 articles about management and leadership in nursing. She even has a method named after her—she co-developed the Marquis-Huston Critical-Thinking Teaching Model, which aims to help educators teach critical-thinking and decision-making skills. She’s been named Outstanding Teacher and Outstanding Professor during her tenure, and in January 2010 she took the reins as director of the nursing school.

Over the years, Huston has maintained her ties to Enloe, both through friendships formed while working there and by sending dozens of students there each year as part of their immersive coursework. Each semester there are about 200 nursing students who need to find educational placement in an area health-care facility. The school partners with hospitals and clinics from Yuba City to Redding, and unlike many other areas of study, Huston said, students spend up to two full days a week out in the field rather than in the classroom.

Because many students attend Chico State from this region, a large number of them also decide to settle down here—and they look to regional hospitals like Enloe for jobs.

“I think my being on the board will strengthen the relationship [between the hospital and the School of Nursing],” Huston said. “It will help the School of Nursing to better understand the agencies where we place students—being on the Enloe board, I’ll be able to better understand their space constraints and staffing needs.”

Enloe staff work on a baby mannequin at the SimCenter.

Photo courtesy of Enloe Medical Center

But working with students and employing graduates isn’t the end of the relationship between the School of Nursing and the hospital. An important community resource that they’re both actively involved with is the Rural Northern California Clinical Simulation Center, which is a partnership between the school, Enloe and Feather River Hospital.

“It’s amazing,” Huston said. “The university and the two hospitals use that for training purposes. Enloe provides the place, the School of Nursing provides the faculty, and we work together.”

The SimCenter, as it’s called, includes high-tech “dummy” patients that the nursing students—and working doctors and nurses from as far away as Canada—use to practice new techniques and procedures.

Looking to the future in her role as director of the School of Nursing, Huston admitted with a note of sadness that it is going through the same rough time economically as everybody else. She said the past few years they’ve been able to get by without laying off faculty or cutting enrollment, and she hopes she’ll be able to continue that trend.

“Budget cuts are really giving us significant challenges,” she said. “We’re having to get by with less and less. At some point, something’s going to have to give.”

She is optimistic, however, about a recent gift to the school from Ed and Marion Floyd (see cover story, page 22, for more on them). They donated $4 million of their estate to the university and split that gift into three specific places, one of them being the School of Nursing. Huston is grateful for the gift, she said, and eager to be able to put it to good use.

“None of that money has come to us yet,” Huston explained. On her wish list: “We’re desperately in need of updating our skills lab on campus. And I would love to have some endowed faculty positions that are safe from budget cuts because they’re funded by outside sources.”

Having just joined the Enloe board earlier this month, Huston said she is excited about the prospects of what her new role on the board will bring, and what she can bring to the board. Being a highly regarded nurse and educator, she is also the only nurse on the board, so she’ll surely bring her unique perspective. She also points to her doctoral work on health-care quality and finance.

“I hope to bring my nursing perspective, as well as experience, particularly around health-care-quality issues,” she said. The board position, which is a nine-year commitment, is a fully volunteer effort, explained Enloe spokeswoman Christina Chavira.

Huston also hopes to further the relationship with the School of Nursing in regard to keeping each entity up-to-date on what the other is doing. For example, she said, Enloe just launched its electronic-medical-records system. “It’s important, if we’re bringing students in, for us to know what electronic platforms they’re using so we can make sure training is appropriate,” she said.

“It’s a win-win partnership,” she summed up. “My coming on to the board is another way we can forge and strengthen the relationship between Chico State and Enloe. They’re the two largest employers in Chico, and our goals are pretty similar. This is just one more way we can understand their challenges and they can understand our needs.”