Faculty Voices: Dr. Patti Conard
As she reflected on the place the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith holds in her
heart, Dr. Patti Conard, associate professor and endowed professor for the College
of Health, Education, and Human Sciences, said, “UAFS just started a rippling effect.”
Nearly every UAFS department has employed at least one person who attended the university during its 95 years of serving students. Conard is one of those alums who somehow found their way back to UAFS – her journey started with completing a two-year nursing degree from Westark Community College in 1977.
As a Fort Smith native who dreamed of becoming a nurse, Conard felt comfortable at her hometown college. Little did she know that her two years as a student would become the foundation of her life today.
Her time as a student not only led to a lifelong passion for working in nursing but introduced Conard to her late husband, Rey. Later in life, things came full circle when she began working as an adjunct faculty member in 2016. With a permanent grin, she said, “I started here, and I’ll finish here.”
But before her return to Fort Smith, Conard lived a life many would dream of. She spent six years overseas living in Japan and Okinawa, traveling the world providing nursing care, continuing her education to earn a bachelor, master, and doctorate, and finding solace in assisting the men and women – and their families – who have served this nation.
Conard’s husband became a military psychiatrist, and she became one of the first 300 nurses to earn a Ph.D. from the first Ph.D. nursing program at Texas Women’s University. Saying she is proud of her accomplishments, “I got to do different types of nursing. I got different types of education. I fulfilled every degree I could get in nursing, and it has been a wonderful experience.”
In conjunction with her husband’s military work, Conard connected with servicemen and -women. Through these relationships, Conard found a personal passion that continues today.
“My research started with women veterans, and my Ph.D. dissertation was the first sentinel study on the experiences of women in war,” she explained. “On occasion, I would meet my husband for lunch at the clinic where we were stationed, and one day I was walking in, and one of the nurses was walking out crying. So, I asked what was wrong, and she said she was getting deployed to the war and had an 18-month-old baby.”
From that moment, Conard was inspired to share the obstacles women veterans face, and beyond just women veterans, the challenges all veterans and their families and caregivers face.
In the following years, Conard became a two-time winner for an article of the year – one inspired by her father, a Korean War veteran, the other on caregivers, drawing from her own experience caring for her husband.
Conard credits her return to UAFS and the university’s and department’s support for her latest research study.
“With a couple of my faculty, we looked at the experiences of homeless veterans during COVID. Everyone was affected by COVID, but we don’t realize how the homeless population was really affected,” she said. “It caused more isolation than usual, and they didn’t have the resources available.”
As her instincts to care for others kicked in, Conard and her team found a way to open doors when the world shuttered its doors. They helped set up facilities at a nearby shelter and provided computers so this vulnerable population could access telehealth.
Through her work, she hopes that “people are reading my articles and treating veterans wonderfully in the healthcare arena, and I’m hoping their healthcare is improved.”
Conard admits that her research is always at the back of her mind, but teaching the current and future generations of nurses is the “passion that keeps me going.” She laughed while reflecting on her journey to becoming a professor and said it wasn’t something she ever imagined doing. However, she said that through UAFS, she found her dream job.
“This is a very supportive place to work … the leadership is just so supportive of everything,” Conard said. “I’m working with a few faculty members on a new innovative approach to simulation to increase clinical judgment in our nursing students.”
Despite being incredibly busy furthering the future of nursing and caring for veterans, Conard said she takes solace in the simpler parts of her life. At home, you can find her tending to her red roses, a personal favorite, or traveling to New York to spend time with her two grandchildren.
- Military and Veterans
- Faculty Voices
- College of Health Education and Human Sciences