“A nurse is there across the lifespan from birth to death. Nurses touch everyone. Nurses are needed,” said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the “new” University of Houston School of Nursing in a recent interview about the move to the UH System’s flagship university. “When it comes to health care, a nurse is one of the first, if not the only, health care provider with whom you will come in contact.”

This fall marks one year that “the University of Houston proper” is home to the nursing school, coming here as an established, well-respected degree program from UH-Victoria. Celebrating its first UH spring commencement and pinning ceremony this year, the school conferred nine Master of Science in Nursing degrees, with seven family nurse practitioners, and one each in nurse administration and nurse education, as well as a total of 22 Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees.

The UH School of Nursing offers a number of degree options, running the gamut from freshly minted nurses to experienced nurses wishing to expand upon their training by securing additional degrees.

The Second Degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is an accelerated, pre-licensure program for post-baccalaureate students who already hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in other fields and want to become registered nurses (RNs). The program is designed to facilitate a career change for more mature and experienced students, combining two years’ worth of work into 12 months.

“At the end, they can sit for their national licensure exam. We have a jewel of a program, with students who come to us with various degrees with occupations to include law, education, social work, even medicine.” Dean Tart said. “When they complete the BSN degree and go out into the field, they have two degrees and are highly sought after. Our students have two years of 100 percent first time pass rate on the national licensure exam, placing the School in the top 5 percent of the nation. That is the caliber of student staying in the Houston area and getting hired.”

Next is the RN to BSN completion program, designed specifically for working registered nurses who have completed their associate’s degree and subsequent RN licensure. The degree program is for RNs who wish to advance their professional qualifications, while continuing to live and work in the area.

“This is part of the reason why our program is in Sugar Land,” Tart said. “The Texas Medical Center is replete with schools, but Methodist, Memorial Hermann, CHI St. Luke’s, Texas Children’s and M.D. Anderson also have satellite programs, right where our students live and work. As a branch campus for UH, we’re able to serve this area, which has so many hospitals. The RN to BSN program will be offered on the UH main campus beginning this fall.”

Finally, at the graduate level, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is offered, allowing nurses to build upon their BSN degrees to become leaders in advanced practice roles, such as nurse educators, nurse administrators and family nurse practitioners.

“Our MSN graduates have had a 100 percent pass rate on their national certification exams each year since the program started,” Tart said. “A big part of what makes us so successful is the breadth and depth of our faculty, who are Ph.D. or master’s degree prepared. We have pediatric and family nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists in everything from oncology to psychiatry, as well as those with backgrounds in administration and education roles. We attract quality faculty that represent research, scholarship and a strong clinical practice.”

Dean Tart says that with the current nursing shortage, the profession is especially in need of more educators, whereby the more educators there are, the more students they can admit to nursing programs. This is where the master’s level nursing education track is particularly helpful.

“Our educators need to have a minimum of master’s level training for excellent student outcomes and patient safety. It’s been shown repeatedly in research for the last 15 years that having baccalaureate or higher educated nurses in the front end is better for patients,” Tart said. “The ratio of nursing faculty to nursing students is one to no more than 10 (1:10) in the hospital setting. Nursing does this for patient safety and student learning.”

As such, she says the profession is working toward the goal of ensuring 80 percent of nurses have bachelor’s degrees and higher by year 2020, citing that evidence shows a higher percentage of nurses with a bachelor’s degree caring for people in hospitals have better patient outcomes, as measured by nurse quality indicators such as fewer deaths, infections and falls.

The School of Nursing produces highly educated science professionals who make critical assessments to uncover health problems of patients and their communities; autonomous decisions about best plans of care to pursue toward health; educate the unhealthy with cutting-edge information to treat and prevent further problems; and advocate for patients and their communities to resolve problems such as poor nutrition, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and prenatal care, to name a few. Nursing is largely a science. But how nurses advocate for the best interests of their patients is their art.

“It’s an exciting time to be here as part of President Renu Khator’s ‘big rock’ of health, helping the UH Health initiative grow,” Dean Tart said. “We’re delighted to be part of this story, because I really think UH is serving the community and that’s what nursing is all about. We are here to be both scientists and independent health care providers, who serve and care, touching lives and making a difference every single day.”

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