Looking Back

Sherri Kirkpatrick, PhD

There are very few people who impacted the history of Graceland’s nursing program more than Sherri Kirkpatrick, PhD. 

A  1965 graduate of Graceland’s associate degree program, Kirkpatrick never wanted to be anything but a nurse. In the pre-baccalaureate days, that meant she had to leave Lamoni and transfer to the Independence Sanitarium and Hospital, affectionately referred to by those who knew it as “The San,” in Independence, Missouri.

In the years since receiving her associate degree, Kirkpatrick received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at California State, her master’s degree at the University of Kansas, then was a member of the first PhD nursing class at Kansas as well. 

She was working at Truman Medical Center and was about to take a job at the University of Kansas Medical Center when Graceland came calling. In 1980, she joined the nursing faculty. Six years later, she was named chair of the nursing division and then was appointed vice president and dean of nursing in 1994. With the exception of a three-year appointment as vice president of institutional advancement, she served in various nursing capacities until retiring from Graceland in 2009.

Kirkpatrick’s tenure at Graceland was exciting. In 1987, she and Graceland president Barbara Higdon received a postcard from a company called AIS out of Roanoke, Virginia, with an invitation for Graceland to partner with them on a distance learning program for nurses that would allow existing registered nurses (RNs) to pursue a BSN. 

In 1988, Graceland became the nation’s first nationally accredited distance education RN to BSN program. Kirkpatrick remembers how difficult the process was. She leaned a lot on her mentor, Dr. Patricia Moccia, who was then the executive director of the National League for Nursing. “I remember Pat told me that if we didn’t pursue a combined accreditation for both our existing face-to-face programs and our new distance learning program, we would regret it,” Kirkpatrick recalls. “It was a lot more work. I had to drive up from Kansas City to present to the Iowa Board of Nursing in the middle of a blizzard.” 

The distance education program was a bigger success than they ever imagined — innovative and inarguably popular — but it was also extremely inefficient. “We were enrolling 1,000 to 2,000 students a month, and since this was pre-computer, our enrollment cards were organized in a shoebox.” Students had to mail in their assignments to be graded by the faculty in Independence. They had to arrange proctors to take their exams. So, naturally, when classes began to move online, the program moved there as well, creating a much better environment for students and faculty.

Kirkpatrick oversaw the School of Nursing’s operations, and as the program’s needs changed, so did their location. Graceland’s Independence campus moved three times during her tenure before ultimately settling in the building on Truman Road where the campus now resides.

Despite her retirement in 2009, Kirkpatrick is still a fixture on the Independence campus. HealthEd Connect, the 501(c)3 charity she co-founded with her husband, Jac, has offices in the administrative section of the Independence campus. HealthEd Connect trains health workers and builds community centers and schools in developing nations like Zambia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal. 

When Kirkpatrick talks about her work with HealthEd Connect, her face lights up. Former Graceland president John Sellars was the one who really gave her the push. “Your life has been a dress rehearsal for this,” he told her.

Kirkpatrick remains invested in Graceland’s success and sees the future of the School of Nursing as critical to the growth of the university. 

"You've Settled In My Heart," book by Sherri Kirkpatrick, PhD

Kirkpatrick doesn’t seem like a typical retired nurse and educator. She still travels around the world with HealthEd Connect and just completed her book, You’ve Settled in My Heart, which contains stories of the amazing people she’s met around the world.