Fort Worth, Texas – In a transformative move, the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNT HSC) at Fort Worth, esteemed for its long-standing dedication to shaping experts in osteopathic medicine, physician assistance, and public health, has now integrated degreed nursing into its comprehensive academic offering. This expansion sees Fort Worth’s illustrious campus adding another layer to its lineage of producing top-tier healthcare professionals.
Nurses are one of the most important factors in the healthcare system
Cindy Weston, the distinguished founding dean of the College of Nursing at UNT Health Science Center, emphasized the indispensable nature of nursing in contemporary healthcare settings.
“Nurses are vital in increasing access to primary care across the lifespan,” she said as reported by KERA News. “When we talk about family practice, that is really across-the-lifespan care. Health promotion, disease prevention, addressing acute and chronic conditions — all of these have been a cornerstone of nursing practice.”
In a pivotal session held recently, the UNT Board of Regents endorsed the introduction of two avant-garde nursing programs, further consolidating the university’s commitment to healthcare excellence.
Highlighting the escalating demand for nursing professionals in Texas, House Representative Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, shared insights at the ceremonial groundbreaking of Texas Woman’s University’s (TWU) state-of-the-art Health Sciences Center. Notably, TWU, with its rich legacy of nurturing nursing talent, boasts one of the nation’s preeminent nursing curricula, having molded competent nursing professionals for countless generations.
“Right now we are 20,000 nurses short in the state of Texas,” Stucky said at the TWU groundbreaking. “The projection is that by 2028, we will be 190,000 short.”
Dr. Cindy Weston highlighted the intricate challenges that Texas faces in terms of healthcare. She illuminated the fact that, analogous to the broader American landscape, Texas grapples with an aging populace. This demographic shift inevitably entails a surge in medical demands, as geriatric Texans will necessitate heightened medical care. Moreover, Texas stands as a beacon of growth, having marked an impressive demographic milestone by exceeding a populace of 30 million in 2022.
Elucidating the pivotal role of nurses in American healthcare history, Dr. Weston drew parallels to iconic figures such as Clara Barton, whose nursing acumen laid the foundation for the American Red Cross in 1881. Similarly, Lillian Wald, another nursing luminary, established the Henry Street Settlement in Manhattan’s lower echelons, a mere decade post Barton’s seminal endeavor.
“Nurses have been going into communities and delivering access to care where it was needed the most for generations,” Weston said. “Nurses have had a focus on communities and improving population health outcomes. We certainly need that in our state. And we certainly need that here in the Fort Worth-Dallas metroplex area.”
But don’t mistake Weston as being hyperfocused on DFW.
“We are a metropolitan area, but we’re surrounded by vast regions of rural communities, and that’s an area that needs access to health care and will continue to need it,” she said. “Texas has the largest rural population in the entire United States. Over 3 million in our population live in rural areas. And we know that, when you live in a rural area, you have poor health outcomes and higher potential mortality rates from conditions because of later diagnosis of those conditions.”
The nascent College of Nursing at UNT HSC is primed to debut two distinguished degrees: a groundbreaking Bachelor of Science specializing in nursing and a Master of Science pivoting on nursing practice innovation. These degree initiatives are projected to commence as digital courses by fall 2024.
Furthermore, Dr. Weston accentuated the seamless transition the institution aims to provide. The ‘Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing’ trajectory enables associate degree-holders to attain a bachelor’s qualification. Citing empirical research, Dr. Weston noted that a bachelor’s education invariably culminates in enhanced patient outcomes, attributable to holistic education and pragmatic exposure.
The university’s palpable enthusiasm lies notably in its master’s offering—a program meticulously crafted for credentialed nurses, allowing them to dovetail their academic prowess with leadership, all within a bespoke curriculum.
“There is no other degree like this in Texas right now,” Weston said. “This degree is not a canned degree that we’re going to fit a nurse into. It allows for the nurse to come in with different areas of interest and expertise that we will allow them to upskill in an area of focus.”
Dr. Cindy Weston provided a nuanced perspective on the dynamic capabilities of the master’s program at UNT HSC. According to her, the program can be molded to cater to a plethora of specialized fields within nursing. Whether the focus lies in chronic care management, intricate care coordination, or even leveraging the power of digital health to mitigate health disparities, the program remains adaptable.
“It could be correctional care nursing, or any area of concentration that a registered nurse wants to develop a stronger expertise in,” she added.
The recent global health crisis, characterized by the COVID-19 pandemic, also stands as a potential influencer for prospective students. Dr. Weston believes the master’s program could resonate with nurses who were at the forefront of COVID-19 care or those imbued with entrepreneurial aspirations in nursing administration.
Dr. Weston emphasized the profound potential of UNT HSC’s nascent nursing institution, suggesting that its influence might resonate throughout North Texas and permeate the state at large. The region could soon witness an influx of adept nurses, with an academic foundation laid at the Fort Worth institution. Their professional terrains might vary, ranging from educational districts and cosmopolitan healthcare centers to rural clinics and the rapidly evolving domain of telehealth.
Yet, one constant, Dr. Weston stressed, would be their intrinsic community-oriented ethos. According to Dr. Weston, for these accomplished nurses, prioritizing community welfare and embedding it into their practice is almost an instinctual response.
“Nurses are going to be the health care professionals that close those gaps,” she said. “Nurses so often are the first people to see what is happening in communities, and what the needs are. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we intend to help nurses find a pathway into that advanced degree.”
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