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July 05, 2016

Preparing thought-leaders for health care’s future


Commencement, which we celebrated May 13, often makes me think hard about the careers that our graduates might expect and how well the School of Nursing is meeting the changing needs of the nursing/healthcare workforce.

It is well known by now that the landmark 2010 Institute of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing, highlighted the nationwide need to increase the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses by 80 percent. Indeed, by 2030 the demand for full-time-equivalent RNs in Texas is expected to suffer a shortfall in supply of 66,474 FTEs.

An ancillary, equally important, recommendation is that the United States double its number of nurses with doctorates. Doing so, the IOM report said, will prepare and enable nurses to lead changes to advance health, promote nurse-led science and discovery, and put more educators in place to prepare the next generation of much-needed nurses.

UTHealth has been working hard to educate more BSN-prepared nurses, increasing our enrollment by more than 23 percent over the past four years. However, the biggest single obstacle to meeting the growing demand for better-educated nurses is the related shortage of nursing school faculty members who can prepare the nurses of the future to practice and lead.

In 2010, UTHealth School of Nursing launched a pioneering model for “growing our own” nursing school faculty. Local philanthropy provided stipends to help 10 outstanding candidates complete their doctoral degrees in three years and become our faculty members. Now, a second cohort of six Accelerated PhD Scholars are about to complete their degrees, supported by a successful $1.3-million fundraising initiative.

Dr. Seema Aggarwal, one of two Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholars, joined our faculty this month.  The other five Cohort Two scholars are due to defend their dissertations this summer and take faculty positions.  These “home grown” doctorally-prepared nurses already are making considerable contributions to the field.

The competitive Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Scholars program provides select PhD students with a $75,000 scholarship and mentorship for the leadership, research and other skills they will need to take their nursing careers to the highest levels.

I am pleased to report that UTHealth School of Nursing has done very well in taking advantage of this program.  Thanks largely to the efforts of Dr. Geri Wood, we are one of only 32 nursing schools nationwide – and one of only two in Texas – to receive a third-cohort grant under the Future of Nursing Scholars program. Two well-qualified students – Hillary Touchett and Cary Cain – will start their PhD studies this fall with RWJF support.

UTHealth’s two second-cohort Future of Nursing ScholarsNipa P. Kamdar and Heather Vincent – began our PhD program last fall. In fall 2014, Latia Wade Hickerson was UTHealth’s inaugural grantee of the RWJF program.

These five RWJF scholars will join our Accelerated PhD Scholars in becoming educators preparing the next generation of nurses and leaders who will develop nurse-led science and innovations in clinical care.

Commencement also celebrated the graduation of the Accelerated FNP-DNP cohort, which was sustained by local philanthropic gifts totaling $1.5 million raised in 2012. The initiative sought local financial support to produce 14 family nurse practitioners who immediately would go on to complete our Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program and ultimately improve the availability of health care in our community.

Fourteen students entered the master’s program in fall 2012, and 14 graduated with their DNPs this year. Four members of the original cohort were replaced by new scholars, but nine of the original 14 participated in Commencement last month.

We also are pleased by the success of our new eight-semester DNP in Nursing Informatics program – an exciting joint venture with UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics – which admitted its first students last fall semester.

U.S. enrollment in DNP programs has increased by an incredible 160 percent within four years after the release of the IOM report. However, PhD enrollment has only grown by 14.6 percent.

The average age at which nurses get their PhDs in the U.S. is 46 – 13 years older than PhD-earners in other fields. Accelerated programs like ours and the Future of Nursing Scholars provide incentives for nurses to start PhD programs earlier, so that they can have long careers in leadership and discovery after earning their degrees.

At UTHealth School of Nursing, we are making every effort to put more educators in place to prepare the next generation of nurses and to encourage graduate education for nurses.

Our recently-adopted Vision statement is: “To be sought out as a thought leader for creating health solutions.” To do that, we must incentivize and prepare nurses to achieve advanced degrees at all levels so they are ready for the healthcare leadership positions of the future.

– Dean Lorraine Frazier