The online magazine of the University of Texas System
They say nurses are the heartbeat of health care: dedicated, compassionate and vital to Americaís health. But in recent years, a number of factors have contributed to a shortage of nurses across our state and nation that many warn threatens this heartbeat and access to quality health care for each of us.
In Texas alone, demand for fulltime registered nurses in 2008 exceeded supply by 22,000. To be clear, itís not a lack of interest; itís a lack of opportunities. According to the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies, some 8,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs in Texas that same year due primarily to a shortage of faculty.
In response to mounting concern about the growing disparity between the supply and demand of nurses, the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition, a diverse partnership of health care organizations, business groups and education leaders, including UT institutions, called on the 2009 Texas Legislature to provide ample funding to increase the annual production of graduates with bachelorís degrees in nursing with the goal of nearly doubling the number of registered nurses in Texas by 2013.
Recognizing the significant impact an investment in nursing programs would have on the health of Texans and the economic vitality of our state, the Legislature took action by allocating $49.7 million to advance enrollment in nursing programs across Texas. "It is critically important to produce increasing numbers of highly qualified nurses if we are to meet the needs of our growing population and increase access to quality care," says UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Kenneth I. Shine. "This unprecedented investment in nursing education by the Texas Legislature is an important step toward helping us achieve those goals."
Included in the state funding is a $5 million investment to establish The University of Texas at Arlington Regional Nursing Education Center. Aimed at students earning their bachelor's of science degrees in nursing, the center will allow UT Arlington to increase enrollment from 400 to 800 students over the next three years and will serve as a resource to other North Texas schools of nursing as they increase their enrollments with expanded use of UT Arlington's Smart Hospital.
A nationally recognized leader in the use of simulation technology to prepare nursing students for clinical practice, UT Arlingtonís Smart Hospital is a state-of-the-science learning center that enables students to gain valuable clinical training on campus, thus reducing their hours in clinical sites. Using interactive patient simulators that are programmed to present various health-care problems, students become well prepared to intervene in all situations before entering into real-life patient care. Increased use of the Smart Hospital through the UT Arlington Regional Nursing Education Center will reduce pressure on area hospitals to provide onsite clinical education to students.
Construction of the Smart Hospital came in part from a $500,000 investment by the UT System Board of Regents in 2007 which was part of a $5 million program called Enrich Nursing Through Exceptional Recruitment (ENTER). With grants ranging from $200,000 to $500,000, the program provided critical funding to UT institutions to increase their research capacity, elevate nursing education, and attract the best and brightest students and faculty. Projects funded through ENTER grants also include:
While the recent jump in state funding will provide critical resources to recruit more outstanding faculty members to train increasing numbers of outstanding nurses, itís also important to note the success of some innovative programs offered at UT institutions that are helping to address our stateís critical nursing shortage.
Accelerated nursing programs, for example, cut nearly in half the time needed to become a qualified nurse. Designed for students who have already earned a bachelorís degree in another area of study, these rigorous programs take what is normally a 20-month course of study and condense it to 12 months.
"Accelerated programs have the potential to change the face of nursing," says Pamela G. Watson, dean of the nursing school at UTMB. "Educating dedicated students in a shorter period of time will enable them to enter the nursing profession earlier and begin caring for patients sooner. These are self-directed, accomplished individuals who are sure to make outstanding contributions to health care."
For students who live in rural areas or may not be able to leave their work or family to attend classes on campus, UT institutions offer undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree tracks in nursing via distance education. Graduates from these programs very often continue to work in their hometowns, helping to meet the health care needs of the underserved populations of Texas.
As health care in the United States and around the globe continues to evolve to provide better access, more affordability and higher levels of patient safety and satisfaction, the role nurses play in the delivery of that care likewise continues to evolve.
The School of Nursing at UTHSC-Houston opened the first Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program in Texas in 2006, and last spring, graduated its first class. With a focus on practice that is innovative and evidence-based, the program emphasizes translating research into clinical practice to improve health care outcomes. In contrast to the Schoolís research doctorate (PhD), the DNP prepares experts in specialized advanced nursing practice who will be part of the workforce that will be needed if universal coverage becomes a reality. These graduates will improve the quality of care, enhance access and reduce costs.
Both PhD and DNP graduates will add to the nursing faculty resources of the state. "The new DNP graduates will make wonderful faculty for nursing schools because of their clinical expertise. I see them as combining practice and teaching, and Iím pleased to report that all of the members of our first graduating class plan to participate in teaching in some format," says Patricia Starck, dean of the nursing school at the UTHSC-Houston. "By ensuring our nurses have pathways and support to continually increase their skills, we make nursing an attractive lifetime career with plenty of advancement opportunities." This fall, UT Arlington will continue to expand opportunities for nursing students as they launch their own Doctor of Nursing Practice program.
— Karen Davidson
Established in 2000, the Academic Center for Evidence Based Practice (ACE) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio advances cutting-edge, state-of-the-art evidence-based nursing practice, research and education within an interdisciplinary environment. ACE provides education in evidence-based practice through undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and professional development programs. Collaborating with campus and community partners, ACE encourages, facilitates, coordinates, and conducts research and interdisciplinary investigations in the field of evidence-based practice with the ultimate goal of improving care, patient outcomes and patient safety for Texans and people around the world.
Copyright © 2009 The University of Texas System. All rights reserved.