A national nursing shortage is worsening, not due to a shortage of applicants to colleges of nursing, but because colleges turn them away due to too few nursing educators to prepare them for a nursing career, university officials say.
One aim of The University of Texas at Tyler's College of Nursing in starting the university's first doctoral program is to prepare more nurse educators/faculty to teach in nursing schools across the state and nation so they can increase enrollment to combat the shortage of nurses, according to Dr. Linda K. Klotz, dean of the College of Nursing.
"And we expect to be able to increase the quality of health care" because of the doctoral students, Dr. Klotz said.
The university celebrated during a reception Wednesday recent approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board of its new doctoral program in nursing and spokesmen thanked those who were instrumental in helping make it come about. Classes will begin in fall 2008.
It will be the state's seventh doctoral program in nursing, but will be unique since it will be the first online doctoral nursing program in Texas and one of few in the nation. "It is a milestone for us within this college and also for the university," Dr. Klotz said.
While UT Tyler awaited the coordinating board's decision on its proposal to start the program, there was no advertising, yet word about it spread and the College of Nursing has already received 140 inquiries and 40 completed applications.
"Isn't that amazing? That's how excited potential students are about having this online program," Dr. Klotz said. More applications are expected following the coordinating board's approval of the program and start of a marketing campaign by the UT System.
The "tough part" will be narrowing the applications since the first class will be limited to 15 students, said Dr. Susan Yarbrough, associate dean for graduate nursing programs. The College of Nursing may consider upping the number of students accepted in future years after it gains experience operating the new program. Doctoral programs typically have 15-20 students or a maximum of 30.
UT Tyler's new doctoral degree in nursing will cap a long evolution of its nurse education effort. Back in 1975, the university started a program in which students with an associate nursing degree could complete requirements for a bachelor's degree. The full bachelor's level nursing program started in 1982 and a master's program in 1989.
The College of Nursing currently has 150 students in its master's degree nursing program and approximately 600 undergraduate bachelor degree nursing students at three locations - UT Tyler's main campus, an extension campus in Palestine and at Longview University Center.
The graduate nursing faculty began meeting about 2 1/2 years ago, bouncing ideas and looking at possibilities for a doctoral program in nursing and eventually took the proposal to the UT Tyler provost and president.
"They were very supportive of us moving forward and so was the UT System," Dr. Klotz said. "What we wanted to do was look at something that would help alleviate the nursing shortage and would also utilize strengths of the area. One of the things we wanted to do was to help to prepare more nurse educators."
The doctoral program will prepare students to be nurse faculty, scholars and researchers qualified to work in a variety of fields improving health care, according to the dean.
UT Tyler President Dr. Rodney Mabry said, "Not only do we need nursing faculty members who come out of a program like this, but we also need administrators in hospitals and various clinics and other kinds of operations. These people will fill those roles. We need research done. We often forget that somebody has to figure out what works best for certain kinds of wound care and how to take care of patients and how to deal with diverse patients who come from different ethnic backgrounds and different countries."
Part of the mission of UT Tyler's College of Nursing, Dr. Klotz said, has always been to make higher education available to students no matter where they are located.
"It's evident across this state that there are urban areas like Austin where we've got Ph.D. (programs) that students have no problem coming to, but when you look at rural areas like East Texas, we have a number of students who have families and are working full time who can't travel to get an advanced degree. We consider part of our obligation to them is to make that education come to them," Dr. Klotz said.
The master's degree in nursing offered by UT Tyler's College of Nursing is already online.
"We want to do the same service for our doctoral students," Dr. Klotz said.
"Graduates of our master's program you will see working in every college and across the state. We're hoping graduates of our doctoral program will be the same thing and will be giving back to the state by helping to train more nurses," Dr. Klotz said.
By creating the state's only totally online doctoral nursing program, UT Tyler's College of Nursing not only will enroll students locally and from across the Deep East Texas region, but also students from across the state and nation or in foreign countries.
"We hear graduate students telling us thank you because I can continue to work full time in the community where I'm based, continue to be with my family without leaving my town and get an advanced degree," Dr. Klotz said.
They will participate in a week of on-campus orientation next summer, but afterward will not have to come to the campus.
The beauty of the online delivery system, Dr. Yarbrough said, is students will be able to access information for courses on their computer whenever convenient for them day or night, regardless of their time zone. Nursing faculty will be able to see them face-to-face via a camera that will attach to their computer. And technology for the online program will enable the instructor to see all students in a class at once even though they are in many places.
Course material will be presented in a lot of different ways. A faculty member will be assigned to teach each doctoral course and there will be video streaming, discussion boards where students interact and type in their ideas, lecture notes provided, required reading and other approaches used.
One of the major differences in this type of instruction compared to traditional presentations in specified time periods for classes is that students will have access through their computer to faculty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Dr. Yarbrough pointed out.
Many students, particularly those who are shy and have trouble speaking in a classroom full of people, feel more comfortable typing things in online where people can't see them, Dr. Klotz noted.
The doctoral program will focus on delivery of health care in communities with the context of culture, Dr. Yarbrough said. For their doctoral dissertation, students will be expected to conduct a research project involving community health taking into account cultural aspects. For example, students in West Texas might carry out a project along the border in border health care and students in New York City might look at community health in the ghettos.
"We hope most of the students will be able to attend full time, but we know that is not always feasible. Full-time students can complete the program in three years," Dr. Yarbrough said. Finishing the program for part-time students will take longer, probably four to five years.