The Board of Trustees today approved a plan to create a stand-alone school of nursing at GW, which senior administrators are calling both a logical extension of the Department of Nursing Education and a tremendous institutional opportunity.
“We have taken nursing as far as we can as a department,” says Ellen Dawson, chair of the department, now part of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “All of the top nursing programs in the country are in schools of nursing.”
According to Jean Johnson, senior associate dean for health sciences, a school is better situated than a department to recruit renowned faculty members and to establish donor partnerships. “A school speaks volumes,” she says.
Dr. Dawson says GW has been planning for a nursing school for five years, so a lot of the required infrastructure is already in place. The department, which includes 30 faculty members, received permission to grant degrees in 2004 and began offering a master’s in nursing the next year. In 2007, the department launched its Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, and in 2009, it created a second degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program. The first D.N.P. class will graduate Sunday.
The school is scheduled to open July 2010, with a public launch planned for summer 2011.
“People ask me, ‘Why now?’” says Dr. Johnson. “It’s a unique moment with health care reform, GW’s capital campaign, the shortage of primary care professionals and the economy.”
With the announcement of the new school, GW is also strategically positioned to be an academic leader in shaping the policies of health care reform. With insurance coverage expanded to an additional 32 million people under the new health care legislation, nurse practitioners could compensate for what is likely to be a shortage of primary care doctors, says Dr. Johnson.
Another factor increasing the demand for nursing could be nurse practitioner-led clinics, which do not have an in-house doctor and are being discussed as part of the current legislation. The new health reform law provides an opportunity for nurses who practice primary care, which could include nurse-led clinics.
Being able to open a nursing school in a prominent institution like GW gives faculty, students and staff a chance to assume a central position in the field, according to Dr. Dawson.
GW is also attracting international attention for its nursing simulation lab, which is on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus. Representatives of a university in Africa, which is building its own simulation lab, recently contacted Dr. Dawson to schedule a visit to Virginia to observe GW’s lab, she says.
According to Dr. Johnson, GW’s nursing school, like all schools and programs of nursing, will likely become more and more vital. “With the aging population, nursing becomes increasingly important,” she says, “not to cure chronic illness but to improve quality living. That is what nursing is about.”
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