DIANE EVANS-PRIOR — DEAN, CENTRAL NEW MEXICO COMMUNITY COLLEGE’S NURSING SCHOOL
BY ELLEN MARKS FOR THE JOURNAL
It took a while for Diane Evans-Prior to find her path in life, which included a short period of “majoring in beer and darts.”
The new dean of Central New Mexico Community College’s nursing school comes from a family of nurses, so that’s the field she always assumed she would pursue. However, she once was a radio disc jockey in Casper, Wyoming, (“KQLT, Quality 103.6. Not a huge audience.”) so she tried journalism for a time.
Evans-Prior did eventually make her way back to nursing, got licensed and spent eight years as a bedside nurse in Albuquerque. But her real calling, it turns out, was the education of others.
“Nursing education is absolutely my passion,” Evans-Prior says.
She credits CNM with giving her opportunity after opportunity, starting with hiring her as an instructor in 2001 after she had just gotten her master’s degree and was a “novice” when it came to teaching.
More than two decades later — last July — Evans-Prior ascended to dean of the newly reorganized nursing program, housed in what’s now called the School of Nursing & Patient Support.
She says one of her signature achievements was helping to form a consortium in 2013 in which community colleges and universities across New Mexico share a common curriculum.
That means a student in Tucumcari, for example, doesn’t have to leave home to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
A statewide curriculum means financial savings for students and a boon for rural areas that desperately need hometown health care workers to stay.
“If they (students) leave small communities to go to Silver City, or UNM or NMSU, they often don’t go back,” Evans-Prior says. And, it turns out, the consortium had unexpected benefits during the pandemic.
Resulting personal and professional relationships allowed nurses to move quickly and figure out how to respond in an emergency, she says.
“So we were able to crowdsource and really pick the hive mind and spread out the work that needed to be done because we were used to working together,” Evans-Prior says. “It’s not even that we’re used to working with each other. It’s our culture.”
As dean, what are your goals for the reorganized nursing school?
“This is really an investment in growth by the college. With nursing programs, specifically, we’re always under internal and external pressures to grow because the need is so great, nationally and locally. Nursing & Patient Support officially became its own school (in the) fall term. One goal is getting the dust to settle. Once the additional pieces go into place, we’ll be ready to announce more.”
Do you foresee difficulty attracting more nursing students?
“We do have a good nursing pool. We need more because we’re trying to grow industry, and we’re trying to grow Albuquerque. We have an aging community. Our younger population is showing decline, so this is going to be a challenge for us. Recently, in a survey about best states for nurses, New Mexico ranked really high.
(Editor’s note: The survey by Wallethub ranked New Mexico the third-best state for nurses.)
Factors included cost of living, housing availability, walkability. We in New Mexico have a reputation of doing an awful lot with very limited resources and doing it really, really well.”
What do you do to relax?
“A lot of volunteer work right now. I’m board chairman for the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, which is the national accrediting agency.
I really spend a lot of time with family — my son and daughter and my husband. I’m very, very crafty. I just started recently making dioramas and small three-dimensional art things.
I like the exacting detail, and I like that it’s nonverbal. For me, that’s a resetting time.”
What’s a difficult lesson
you have had to learn?
“How to say no. That one’s always one that we struggle with because of the culture of patient care. Sometimes no is the kindest thing you can say to someone. Whenever I have to tell someone no, I usually try to give them a choice. Like, ‘I can’t give you this, but I can give you this or this.’ So if you have to shut down one thing, you want to open something else.”
What was your first job?
“I worked in a costume shop.
Then they realized I had no sewing skills and was really bad at ironing, so it was a really short job. It was a fun place to work, but I do not know how to iron a Shakespearean collar.”
What has made you successful?
“I’ve probably never been the quietest voice. I have always (said), ‘Hey, can we do this better?’ ‘Why don’t we do it this way?’ ‘Hey, this is a cool thing, let’s try that.’ My employers have generally embraced that, but here at CNM not only was it embraced, but it was encouraged and facilitated.”
What’s the environment like for new nurses?
“They’re entering the profession in a climate where health care … was changed with the pandemic and with social media. Some environments are very, very hard because there’s just so much anger. Patients are angry, families are angry, co-workers are angry. People are impatient. We’ve been on this high-energy, do it, do it, do it, and now that we’re on the other side, we’re still saying ‘do it, do it.’ We’re out of the panic mode, but it’s still impacting us.
While the crisis has dipped, our hospitals are still at … capacity, with RSV, COVID and flu.”
“I have moments that I wish I had done differently, but I am who I am because of my sum total of experience, and that includes screwing up.
Adult learners learn best by breaking things. They have to make it their own. They have to roll up their sleeves and get into it. They’ll learn more by making mistakes than by doing something right 100 times.”