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James Sprunt Community College creates a foundation for ‘future nurses of America’ 

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When Phadra Murray graduated from Wallace-Rose Hill High School in 1998, she never planned to return to Duplin County. But when she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill four years later, Murray said she still hadn’t quite figured out her plans, so she returned home. 

After a year of teaching middle school, Murray decided she wanted to pursue a career in nursing. Her parents – both longtime James Sprunt Community College (JSCC) employees – knew just the place. She graduated from the associate degree nursing program at JSCC in 2005.

Murray spent years as a neonatal and labor and delivery nurse in North Carolina, and as a travel nurse. Now, she’s the department head of nursing at JSCC. 

“I decided after 20 years to move back to Duplin County, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Murray said. 

She says JSCC not only gave her a start in her career as a nurse but also as a nurse educator. Murray joined the nursing faculty at JSCC in 2017 and has served in various roles since. Now, she said she wants to make her program a foundation in her community.

According to a recent economic impact study, JSCC has a total economic impact of $45.5 million annually. Health care is the fourth highest employer in Duplin County.

Creating a foundation 

“One of the things that I’ve seen at some local hospitals is that because of the nursing shortage, they have to close units down because we don’t have enough nurses,” Murray said.

To combat this, Murray is working to ensure that students in JSCC nursing programs are familiar with the health care industry in Duplin County, in hopes that they’ll choose to work in the area after graduation. 

“Hopefully letting them experience what we have to offer in our local hospitals, so that once they complete their program here, that they will go back and work at the health department here and work at the hospital here,” Murray says. 

But she knows that a large portion of nursing students at JSCC aren’t coming from Duplin County. Instead, they are coming from nearby counties like Onslow, New Hanover, Wayne, and others. Setting students up for success after graduation is one of Murray’s top priorities, so creating partnerships with hospitals in these other areas is important. She said it allows her students to “get their foot in the door” when they begin looking for job opportunities. 

Murray spends time in the different hospitals and clinical settings her students visit. She said knowing what technology her students will work with and creating relationships with the staff ensures everyone is on the same page. She makes this clear to students. 

“I’m making sure that you’re getting what you need and you’re giving 100%,” Murray said. “So I’ll just show up unannounced because, at all times, I want you to be doing what you’re supposed to do because they’ve opened the doors to give us an opportunity to learn.” 

Murray is working to boost local talent entering the nursing program. It’s why she’s partnered with Elizabeth Howard, JSCC’s Career and College Promise (CCP) liaison, to visit local high schools and encourage interested students to apply to the nursing program. Murray said it’s important that high school students know how the application process works. 

“A lot of students – it’s not that they don’t want to become nurses, they don’t know how to,” Murray said. “I like to work within the pathway starting in high school, so they’ll know they’re on the right path.” 

“A lot of students – it’s not that they don’t want to become nurses, they don’t know how to.”

Phadra Murray, department head of nursing at JSCC

When she’s out promoting the nursing programs, Murray considers herself an ambassador for the entire college.

“There’s always opportunity. If you don’t want to do nursing, that is fine. But there’s always something else that I can offer you,” Murray said.

Being future-minded

Murray knows that some of her students will plan to earn their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) after they graduate from the associate degree nursing program. So she incorporates lessons and projects that will prepare them for their future educational aspirations, in addition to their clinical experiences. 

Murray is dedicated to producing well-rounded nursing graduates. It’s why all students have to take courses like English and Introduction to Computers. Murray said the skills gained in these courses coupled with the hands-on experience of the nursing program set students up for success after graduation. 

“A lot of things that you learn on the outside of nursing impacts nursing,” Murray says. 

In 2021, JSCC used various funds to completely renovate the nursing labs and classrooms at the college and unveil a state-of-the-art facility. The project cost approximately $4.3 million and added more than 17,000 square feet. The nursing wing consists of a hospital lab, patient simulation labs, offices, student study areas, and classroom space. This includes state-of-the-art additions like high-fidelity mannequins.

Murray said this is the first of many steps to grow the health programs offered at JSCC. After talking with local health facilities, she hopes to add additional programs in the future.

“I strongly have a passion for this program here at James Sprunt,” Murray said.

Cheyenne McNeill

Cheyenne McNeill is a communications strategist for EdNC.