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Hanging Up the Stethoscope

Hanging Up the Stethoscope photo
Photo by Kimberly Ryan, News Sun

4/16/2017 7:44:49 p.m. - Hobbs, NM.  

[Story by Dorothy Fowler, Hobbs News Sun]

Dolores Thompson, director of the nursing school at New Mexico Junior College, will hang up her stethoscope, at least for a while, on June 1.

Thompson, who has been part of the NMJC nursing program as both teacher and director for almost 20 years, was at the school Tuesday saying goodbye to students, colleagues and friends. It was an emotional experience for her.

“These are not really tears of sadness,” she said, “but it is hard to leave something behind. But what’s coming is a different season of life.”

She then quoted from Ecclesiastes 3:1, King James version of the Bible. “To everything there is a season,” she said, “but I can never remember the other part of it.”

Thompson, at 52, has experienced several professional seasons. She has been an emergency room nurse, a nurse practitioner, and a teacher at the nursing school as well as the director of nursing.

During her years as a nurse practitioner, she practiced in Abilene, Texas, and opened a clinic in Brown-wood, Texas. When she came back to southeast New Mexico, she opened a clinic in Eunice.

“I got it open and all set up. And then I learned there was an opening at NMJC and I decided to come back as a teacher. I’ve always loved NMJC,” she said. “And then I worked for Lea Regional Hospital in the emergency room. I came back to the nursing school in 2005 to teach and have been the director of the program for the last eight years.”

During her time at the college, Thompson has noted several changes.

“When I first started, our students tended to be older, maybe in their thirties, maybe as old as 50. We didn’t see many students right out of high school. Now students tend to be right out of high school, although we do have some older students. Each one of those groups has had a different set of life experiences,” she said. “Students who come right out of high school have study habits and they’re more comfortable with computers than some of our more mature students. And lots of our older students have families they’re taking care of while they’re going to school. We discourage it, but some of our students also have jobs. Keeping it all together — the nursing school, the family, the job — they are amazing.”

Other changes she’s witnessed are the move to e-books from printed textbooks and from paper charting to computer charting.

She’s been an integral part of a major change in the way nursing is taught. As a member of the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium, she and a group of nurses, developed a “concept-based curriculum” for New Mexico’s nursing students.

“The new curriculum is designed to manage the exponentially expanding healthcare knowledge base and additionally allows for seamless transfer of coursework among New Mexico nursing schools,” she wrote in an article explaining the curriculum change last year.

“The NMJC Nursing Department is proud to be the first rural community college to implement the new curriculum,” she said. “The college has also entered a partnership with the University of New Mexico to offer the bachelor of science in nursing degree from the NMJC campus. The first group of NMEC-education BSN graduate nurses will complete nursing education in August of this year.”

Under Thompson’s leadership, New Mexico Junior College was the first rural college in the state to adopt and implement the new curriculum. Since that time, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to improving health care, has endorsed the curriculum and recommended it as “a template for nursing education nationwide.”

Thompson emphasized that the nursing curriculum is difficult.

“You have to be dedicated to get it done. It’s work, hard work. But it’s worth it, not only for the patients who get the benefit of good nursing, but because it changes the lives of the students. Nursing gives students an opportunity to have a better life. It pays pretty well and there’s a nursing shortage, so they can get jobs,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said she has witnessed a change in what she called, “academic progression” in nursing. Now, about 70 percent of our students want to choose a program that will let them earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Our first group of BSN (bachelor’s of science in nursing), all 23 of them passed their state board exam on the first try.”

“Nurses are the largest single group of health care providers in the nation and they have the least voice. We believe that having nurses with a degree will give them a seat at the table when health care policy is discussed,” Thompson said. Retiring from her position at NMJC doesn’t mean that Thompson is retiring from life. “I’ve made friends among colleagues all over the state and across the nation, partly because the college allowed me so many opportunities to travel and to be part of groups outside the area. I’m so grateful to the college. It’s given so much to me. And I am grateful to the community for its generous support for the college and the nursing program.”

Thompson plans to spend the first few weeks of her retirement in New York City.

“I’ve been there before, but I always wanted to go back and stay for a while, not as a tourist. And then I’ll come home and decide what to do next,” she said.

Dorothy N. Fowler can be reached at 575-391-5446 or



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