A Worthy example

2018 Clinical Teaching Award winner teaches by example

If you’re an upper division nursing student at the University of South Carolina, Karen Worthy has seen your file. In fact, by the time you’re a senior, she may well have committed it to memory.

A clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing, Worthy teaches a range of upper division courses, including an intense, eight credit-hour senior capstone practicum, a course that demands rigor but also communication and understanding on the part of the preceptors.

“I know their names, I know their abilities, I learn their strengths and weaknesses so that I can intervene when necessary,” says Worthy. “When it’s time to enroll in their capstone course, I probably know more about them than they prefer I know.”

Reviewing their academic performance, exam scores and clinical evaluations assists her in placing BSN students in the most appropriate clinical facility and clinical unit according to their individual needs. In the short term, she focuses on preparing them for the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The ultimate goal, however, is to develop safe, competent and compassionate registered nurses.

“Our program is robust, we have high expectations in all our courses, especially in capstone where we focus more intensively on critical thinking, deductive reasoning and clinical judgment,” Worthy says. “From my perspective, a competent nurse is someone who has the knowledge base, understands the theory, has a genuine spirit of inquiry, and can apply the knowledge in a way that elicits an appropriate response and intervention for their patients. They can think outside the box and be responsive to immediate situations.”

And that means getting students to engage in the field at a higher level beyond their current purview.

“Many students desire to focus on technical skills, but fail to understand the role of the nurse beyond skill specifics. For example, they want to learn how to insert an IV or administer medications. Well, we can teach them skills,” she says. “But a higher level of thinking involves knowing the rationale for their actions; can they think critically during the entire process? That’s much more critical.”

Despite her commitment to critical thinking and deductive reasoning, Worthy hasn’t lost sight of the relational and mentoring aspect of teaching — or of nursing.

Before joining the faculty at the university’s Columbia campus in 2013, she was the BSN Student Success Coordinator at USC Lancaster, a short drive from Chester, S.C., her hometown. There, she saw herself in many of her students who faced challenges similar to hers as a first-generation African-American college student from a rural community.

“There are certain barriers well documented in literature for underrepresented minorities pursuing higher education, including financial hardships, familial obligations and lack of resources readily available, which are often evident in our rural programs,” she says.

“I understand how life’s obstacles can obstruct one’s academic dreams,” she says. In Worthy’s case, with the encouragement and support of her parents, spiritual family and community, she continued on to college. She began her college experience at USC Upstate and concluded at USC Columbia. She now holds five degrees from Carolina, including a master’s in public health administration and a Ph.D. in higher education administration.

If anybody can relate to student’s obstacles, she can — and she encourages her students to stop by her office, grab a piece of chocolate from the candy jar on her desk and sit and talk.

“My door is always open, and often times the challenges aren’t as insurmountable as students imagine. They simply may not know the resources we have put in place to assist them in their journey,” she says. “Student success is the essence of my job as an educator, mentor and coach to our future nurse leaders.”

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