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First induction ceremony of Sigma Theta Tau's Zeta Pi Chapter at UTHealth Houston.


Growth of Nursing Specialties

The 1980s dawned with a small but determined team of faculty and staff, many of whom would grow not only nursing programs but their own families over the course of the decade.

Professor Vaunette Fay, PhD, RNC, FNP, GNP, joined the faculty in 1981 and retired in May 2022, making her one of the longest-serving educators at Cizik School of Nursing. She recalled that when she was expecting her youngest son in 1983, at least four of her colleagues were pregnant as well. Graduate faculty offices in the Houston Main Building (formerly Prudential Building) circled an open space with a large table where people would congregate for work, lunch, and mutual support.

“We were creating new courses, doing new things, writing grants. It was high energy,” recalled Professor Diane Wardell, PhD, WHNP-BC, who later became the director of the women’s health nurse practitioner (NP) program, the school’s first master’s-level NP program. The gerontological NP track soon followed, and Wardell and Fay would work together on developing the core NP curriculum.

Throughout the ’80s, the school expanded and enhanced the BSN and MSN programs it had established in the ’70s. At the undergraduate level, a “flexible” option was added to enable working RNs with associate’s degrees to earn their BSN.

A trend toward nursing specialization led to the creation of a variety of graduate programs focusing on specific patient populations. In later years, licensure standards shifted toward fewer and more general categories – such as including pediatric and women’s health in the broader family nurse practitioner certification. However, the focus areas developed in the ’80s would become integrated throughout the curriculum.

“We were on an upward trajectory every year,” said Dean Emerita Patricia L. Starck, PhD, RN, FAAN, who led the school for 30 years beginning in 1984.

Two centers established during the decade also have evolved over the years and continue to support education, research, and practice. The Center for Nursing Research offers an array of services to help nurse scientists expand health care knowledge, and the Center on Aging ultimately became part of the UTHealth Houston Consortium on Aging, a collaboration among all six schools within the university.


  • Perinatal Nursing Program is established.


  • The Zeta Pi Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau National Honor Society is granted to the School of Nursing.


  • Critical Care Nursing program is established.


  • Patricia L. Starck, PhD, RN, FAAN, is appointed dean.


  • RN-BSN Program is established.
  • Nurse Anesthesia and Women’s Health Care Nursing programs are established.


  • The Center for Nursing Research is established.


  • The Center on Aging is established.

(Banner image: First induction ceremony of Sigma Theta Tau's Zeta Pi Chapter at UTHealth Houston.)

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The Center for Nursing Research is established in 1986.
The Center for Nursing Research is established in 1986.