Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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Tough Love

Teaching students to practice by the rules and from the heart
Story Photo

Faculty, staff, students, and alumni celebrated with Darla Ura (second from left) when she retired. Ura pioneered simulation training in the School of Nursing.

Last December, Tracey Wilds 88Ox 91N MSN ANP-C flew from Connecticut to see her longtime mentor, clinical associate professor Darla Ura MA RN ANP-C. By all accounts, Wilds traveled the farthest to attend Ura's retirement celebration at the School of Nursing.

Wilds was just nine years old when she decided to become a nurse. But she had more than education on her mind when she began her Emory nursing studies more than a decade later.

"I was interested in having a full college experience, including joining a sorority and other Emory campus activities with my Oxford College friends," says Wilds, currently a DNP student at Quinnipiac University. "Darla understood my 'youth' but also guided me firmly to mature and become a professional." 

Ura similarly has touched the lives of thousands of students during her 28 years at Emory. When she joined the faculty in 1987, Ura staffed different units and taught students at what is now Emory University Hospital Midtown. It was a different time in nursing education, when students first practiced their clinical skills on real patients.

"The acuity of typical patients was not as great then," says Ura, who herself trained as a critical care nurse. "They were able to tolerate students learning on them. Patients now are much sicker, and students have to be ready to run when they first work on the floor. They have to have a place to practice."

Ura filled that need by pioneering simulation training at Emory. When the current School of Nursing building opened in 2001, she directed the new Center for Caring Skills, equipped with the latest patient simulators and hospital beds. When the center was expanded and named the Charles F. and Peggy Evans Center for Caring Skills in 2004, Ura oversaw its construction, including the addition of an observation and control room with one-way mirrors, video cameras, and enhanced technology.

She also taught numerous courses for BSN and MSN students and coordinated the nurse practitioner programs in adult acute care and adult-gerontology primary care. She garnered several awards for her efforts, including the Jean Thomas Award for Creativity in Teaching from Sigma Theta Tau International, the Emory Williams Teaching Award from the university, and the Teaching Scholar Award from the School of Nursing.

Before joining Emory, Ura taught at other nursing schools, including Florida State University, where Sandra Dunbar PhD RN FAAN FAHA FPCNA served on the faculty.

"Darla always put students first," says Dunbar, associate dean for academic advancement at Emory's School of Nursing. "Her first love is teaching and seeing students blossom and grow. She wanted them to be the best nurse they could be. Her standards were high."

Ura set the bar high for a reason. "I call it like I see it," she says. "If a student wasn't doing well, I would tell them, 'you need to have empathy for patients and the desire to be a good nurse. Otherwise, you're not going to make it.' "

Those talks were the exception rather than the rule. For students who struggled financially, Ura would offer to assist with payments for their textbooks or a Sigma Theta Tau membership. "They really are like your children," Ura says. "You care about them. You love them. And you teach them the rules."

"It's fun to watch them graduate and follow their career trajectory," she adds. "I've taught thousands of students in my career. I wouldn't trade my nursing career for anything."—Pam Auchmutey

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