Candace Chihak

While living in eastern Iowa a decade ago, Candace Chihak got a chance to see the functioning of the nursing program at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City when her daughter was in the program.

Chihak said she “fell in love” with Briar Cliff when Abigail Chihak attended the University, then that grew as she saw a job opening for the nursing department chair position and interviewed to come join the faculty.

“I love the people here,” Chihak said. “You feel the Franciscan values, and I love that.”

She ultimately was hired as the nursing chair beginning for the 2020-21 academic year, and has enjoyed the work of making sure a robust curriculum and sound professors are in place to give top notch training for students across three academic degree levels.

“It is all geared to their success,” Chihak said. “When the nursing students leave here, they leave with a confidence in their skills, they leave with a compassion for their patients, they leave with the knowledge they need to be successful in their careers, and they leave with a new family. Our students are that close. They come here not knowing each other, and they leave as a family. I mean, we get invited to their weddings. They let us know when they have babies, when they change jobs.”

Her work as the Nursing Department chair involves administratively overseeing the faculty members, evaluating the programs and teaching a few courses.

Nursing and business form the two largest academic programs at Briar Cliff. The Nursing Department has seven full-time professors, three part-time professors, one clinical coordinator and periodic adjunct instructors. 

There are usually 140 to 160 students taking courses over all the levels in most years. Some of the nursing instructors at one point were BCU students themselves and of the masters level students completed their undergraduate education at BCU too.

Only the undergraduate pre-licensure nursing students take all their classes on the Sioux City campus. The others in upper-level degree programs such as master of nursing tracks and the nurse practitioner doctorate take courses via a combination of on campus and online instruction, or all online. The online options have meant that BCU students are able to complete their degree from farther away in Iowa, or in other states.

Chihak said people are drawn to the nursing profession because they want to help and take care of others. That’s why Chihak is especially proud of the pro bono foot clinic, where Siouxlanders can receive free care from the nursing students. Many of the recipients are vulnerable people to whom the students provide service at The Warming Shelter in downtown Sioux City. She said empathy is gained by the students when carrying out such personal care.

“They see people as people,” Chihak said. “A big part of nursing is caring for the whole person, not just treating the illness.”

Chihak is a native of Eldora, Iowa. Prior to moving to BCU three years ago, Chihak had been an assistant professor and program director at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and for 30 years worked as a nurse in a variety of settings, including operating room and community health settings. She holds her bachelor’s degree in nursing and masters in nursing with an emphasis in health advocacy from Mount Mercy, along with a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Northern Iowa.

Some of her work in previous roles included giving life skills instruction to program recipients, which showed Chihak that she liked teaching.

That was followed by a nursing adjunct teaching post at Mount Mercy in 2013, and the seed to move into academia was firmly planted, setting her on the path to BCU a few years later.

“I was looking at myself and how I might grow in a new way,” Chihak said.

This is part of a series of Faculty Stories profiling all the chairs of BCU academic departments in 2023.