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UTHealth Houston and Memorial Herman win prestigious AACN Award

Partnership developed during pandemic fuels multiple innovations

AACN president and CEO Deborah Trautman, Erica Yu, Rosemary Pine, Cathy Rozmus, and Cynthia McCurren, chair of the AACN Board of Directors.
(L-R) AACN president and CEO Deborah Trautman, Erica Yu, Rosemary Pine, Cathy Rozmus, and Cynthia McCurren, chair of the AACN Board of Directors.

A long-standing academic practice partnership between Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Herman-Texas Medical Center led to a host of improvements in nursing education, practice, and retention at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. These wide-ranging and innovative efforts earned the two institutions the 2023 New Era for Academic Nursing Award, presented at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Academic Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 28.

The Workforce Innovation and Learning Laboratory (WILL) was born of the urgent need to fill nursing vacancies during COVID-19 patient surges and was officially established through a formal agreement. At its core are weekly virtual meetings of academic and hospital leadership to support nursing workforce development and practice.

“WILL is a ‘think-tank’ and ‘do-tank’ program,” explained Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies Erica Yu, PhD, RN. “We wanted to create an infrastructure enabling hospital nurse leaders to step away from their mentally and physically taxing jobs for an hour a week to brainstorm novel, sustainable workforce solutions informed by the latest research, feedback from stakeholders, and practice needs.”

In addition to Yu, the many nurses and faculty members who have played important roles in WILL include Rosemary Pine, PhD, RN, director of hospital education and professional development at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center; Maja Djukic, PhD, RN, FAAN, assistant dean for research at Cizik School of Nursing; and D’Hania Miller, MSN, RN, an instructor in the school’s Simulation and Clinical Performance Laboratory.

The list of projects resulting from the weekly brainstorming sessions is long and growing:

  • A dedicated educational unit for nursing students was established within Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center during the pandemic, when clinical placements for nursing students became scarce.
  • Djukic received a grant from the National Council of State Boards of Education funding the study “An examination of associations between transition to practice measures and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • Djukic and Miller developed Accelerated Nursing Curricula with Collaboration and Engagement (ADVANCCE), a nursing pipeline pilot program for high school students from underserved areas. The project was funded by a grant from Hearst Foundation for Advancing Diversity and Visibility.
  • The Clinical Scholars Program enables students in their final year of nursing school to gain hands-on patient care experience at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, smoothing the transition from the classroom to the workplace.
  • The hospital launched a six-week Newly Licensed Nurses Orientation Program for recent graduates joining the staff.
  • Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center also developed a nurse residency program and has supported nurses from the hospital in pursuing doctoral degrees at Cizik School of Nursing.
  • The two institutions jointly sponsored virtual education sessions and professional development opportunities for nurses, along with simulations for both practicing nurses and nursing students.

“The outstanding success of WILL shows the value of simply bringing practice and academic partners together for an hour a week to talk about problems and collaboratively imagine solutions,” said Cizik School of Nursing Dean Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, RN, FAAN. “The results include $450,000 in external funding with research findings disseminated widely in peer-reviewed journals and at professional conferences. Bravo to this impressive team on their award-winning accomplishments.”

“From a workforce standpoint, we’ve seen improvements in cost, transition to practice, and career progression outcomes. We have also made substantial progress toward creating a sustainable pipeline of nurses that will be necessary in providing safe and high-quality patient care in the future,” Pine said. “We are thrilled by the remarkable results that have grown from WILL so far, and we look forward to what this productive collaboration will yield next.”

The AACN New Era for Academic Nursing Award recognizes AACN member institutions that have successfully implemented exemplary academic practice partnership to advance health care transformation.


In this story


Maja Djukic, PhD, RN, FAAN

D'Hania L Miller, MSN, RN

Erica Yu, PhD, RN

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