Next-Generation Nursing

May 12, 2011

Nursing school celebrates first year, looks toward future.

By Laura Donnelly-Smith

The GW School of Nursing has had significant accomplishments in its inaugural year. Since it officially became GW’s 10th school on May 10, 2010, the School of Nursing has seen its first class of Bachelor of Science in Nursing recipients graduate, added a second class of students who will graduate next year, hired more than 30 faculty members and opened a state-of-the art simulation lab.

On Tuesday, faculty members, students, friends and supporters of the school gathered on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus to celebrate a successful first year and to prepare to take on the challenges that will come with continued growth. Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazel spoke at the gathering about the health care challenges Virginia faces, and how the School of Nursing can help.

“You cannot have a robust economy without healthy people. You just can’t,” Dr. Hazel said. He explained how many newly insured people will need care starting in January 2014 when the new health insurance law takes effect, and the influx will require that “we fundamentally and rapidly rethink how we take care of people.”

The School of Nursing has a goal to put more nurses in rural areas working as primary care providers, and is working with the state of Virginia to ensure that underserved areas can get health care providers, explained Jean Johnson, dean of the school. It also is working to develop associate’s and master’s degrees in nursing in addition to the BSN degree, so that local students at all levels will be able to come to GW for nursing education.

Dr. Hazel said he appreciates GW’s focus on nursing in underserved areas. “I really like the way you are reaching out to the areas of Virginia that are really the most underserved…to try to develop a cadre of individuals who can take care of people in settings where you do not have MRI scans and CT scans and heart surgery available immediately,” he said.

GW offered its first nursing degrees in 2005, with a Master of Science in Nursing program aimed at preparing nurses to care for an aging population. GW has operated a nurse practitioner program in collaboration with George Mason University since the mid-1980s, but students’ degrees come from GMU. In 2007, GW started its doctorate of nursing program, and in 2009 admitted its first bachelor’s degree students—all before the School of Nursing was officially established.

“We’ve had a lot of growth in a short period of time, and that’s mainly because of the faculty,” Dr. Johnson said. “We have outstanding faculty and staff, and they keep doing new things.”

In March, when U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of nursing schools were released, Dr. Johnson said she was thrilled to see that GW had jumped to No. 50 in the rankings, up from No. 63 in the previous rankings.

Craig Linebaugh, GW’s chief academic operating officer for the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, said that bringing the School of Nursing to campus has helped the campus grow—the nursing program is currently the fastest-growing program offered on the Virginia campus. An additional laboratory is being constructed and will open early next year to provide more opportunities for realistic, hands-on learning before students’ first clinical placements.

“The lab is extraordinary—the simulated patients are all computer controlled,” Dr. Linebaugh explained. “The faculty can make them do all kinds of things, such as stop breathing. Students practice on the simulators before they practice on real people.”

In addition to preparing more nurses for duty, the School of Nursing also has plans to help counter the area’s ongoing nurse shortage by preparing more nursing instructors for the classroom.

“There’s not a lack of students wanting to go to nursing, but there is a lack of faculty,” Dr. Linebaugh said. “Not only are we doing a BSN degree, but we’re doing master’s and doctorate degrees, producing the next generation of faculty. That’s really important.”

Dr. Johnson says that recruiting more top-notch faculty to teach in the School of Nursing is a priority for the next year. The school will recruit at least eight additional teaching faculty members, and plans to recruit other faculty members who will primarily work on developing a rigorous research agenda.

GW Provost Steven Lerman said at the nursing celebration that he feels incredibly proud that the university now has a full-fledged nursing school.

“Nursing is a profession that attracts people committed to the welfare of others, and it creates a cohort of highly trained professionals who we increasingly rely upon to provide a range of primary health care services,” he said. “I can promise you that, given the leadership we have, the commitment we have, and the partners we have, the best is yet to come for the School of Nursing.”

Anna Miller, a writer and assistant editor for the GW Medical Center, contributed to the reporting of this story.

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