When the first University of Texas at Austin nursing
student enveloped herself in a decontamination suit and oxygen mask
for a mock emergency involving hazardous materials, it became clear
that this is not your Florence Nightingale nurse.
enrolled in “Disaster Nursing” perform a HAZMAT exercise that
will prepare them for a real chemical or biological contamination
Training to treat
victims of weapons of mass destruction and taking courses in genetics
and health care ethics are just some of the ways nursing has changed
for those learning how to care for the sick and infirmed.
19th century approach to nursing care revolutionized the way nurses were
educated and cared for their patients, her principles were
fairly simple: “You are required to be sober, honest, truthful, trustworthy,
punctual, quiet, orderly, clean and neat.”
Of course, good nurses abide
by this motto today. But there is much more as the profession continues
to evolve. The university’s School of Nursing has
led the effort nationwide in new courses, research and community involvement.
even Nightingale (1820-1910) herself could have anticipated the
creation of a course at the university called “Disaster Nursing.”
post-Sept. 11 look to the school’s curriculum content was
created in the summer of 2002. The school was one of the first
in the country
to offer a
course on how to tend to victims of a mass casualty event.
learn everything from how to decontaminate victims at an incident
site to how to recognize and treat the psychological impact of a mass
on victims and health care professionals. Also included are instructions
on how to perform effective triage, appropriately handle human remains,
and complete recovery operations, including reports and debriefings.
team member Michele Mata is fitted with
an oxygen mask and tank. In a real-life situation, the entry
team would have the highest risk of exposure and require the
most protective gear.
the class, a mock disaster response drill is held on the patio
of the nursing school. Students, wearing protective clothing, participate
in a simulation
of a patient extraction from a contaminated site.
“We always have taught public health nursing, emergency room nursing, etc.,
but now it’s a whole new ballgame,” said Dr. Marilyn Pattillo, who
first taught the class.
“Nurses are everywhere—in schools, in public health,
hospitals, offices, industries and businesses—and we need
to know what to do,” she
said. “If a mass casualty event occurs, every nurse should
be available to employ emergency response skills.”
fairly new course—in genetics—will be required
for incoming undergraduates in nursing beginning in fall 2004.
As a result of the Human Genome
Project and other genetic research efforts, there has been an explosion
of knowledge about the role of genetics in health and illness,
said Kay Taylor, one of the
nursing faculty who will teach a genetics course.
“These genetic advances and their clinical applications have
created a new era in health care,” Taylor said, adding that
scientists are now able to understand the basic genetic defects underlying
many diseases and genetic
testing is available
for several common disorders.
The new genetics course is designed
to help students integrate basic genetic science into clinical
practice, including an examination
of the compelling
ethical, legal and social issues raised.
The school also was
the first in the country to require its students to take a Spanish
course so that they can better care
for a changing
“The nursing profession has changed beyond a staff position
at a hospital,” said
Sarah Peters, head of career counseling at the School of
graduates can become clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners,
nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives as well as scientists and researchers.”
and Amanda Holmes graduated last May from the School of Nursing
and are now working in
for Peters and the students, the demand for nurses has only grown over the
years. Every single student who graduates
job, sometimes with a signing bonus.
Young women and men
go into nursing almost as a calling. Touring the School of Nursing
building across Red River
the Frank Erwin
hear a constant refrain: “I became a nurse because
I love people.”
Take Courtney and Amanda Holmes.
The identical twins from El Paso graduated last May and
are now working in
Austin hospitals, following a
long tradition of going into nursing. Their 93-year-old
grandmother was a
nurse and their
also is one.
“I truly feel as though nurses are Earth’s angels,” said Courtney. “When
people are in the hospital, they feel helpless, vulnerable
and scared. I feel as though we are a source of strength for these patients.”
“Our grandmother has always told us about her rewarding experiences
as a nurse, and she was the one who inspired me to pursue nursing,” said
Although the role of a nurse has always been important, Amanda
believes there is now greater responsibility due
medicine and changes
In addition, the population is growing older. This
also puts a greater demand on nurses, she said.
“But still, I feel like I have an innate enthusiasm for caring
for people and I think that’s the major reason I love nursing,” said
feel rewarded when I help people.”
in 2002 from the School of Nursing with plans
to work in pediatrics in New York City.
resonates with faculty members as well. “I like
dealing with people,” said Dr. Betty Skaggs,
director of the school’s Learning
Center, which helps nursing students apply technology
to their field. “I
actually feel that it is an honor to be a nurse.”
school has 925 enrollees (224 of whom are graduate
students), taught by 64 faculty members. Last spring,
the school graduated
students. Students may apply to the school only after
completing 60 hours of prerequisites. A faculty committee
their applications, essays
work. Once accepted, the students complete four semesters
of work for
“We have a group of students and faculty to admire,” said
Dr. Dolores Sands, who has been dean of the school since 1989. “In
the 21st century, service professions such as nursing will determine
the quality of American life.”
For “non-traditional” older
students, the university has the only program in Texas for degree-holders
seeking a nursing
Alternate Entry Master’s Program. In 15 months,
students may take the registered nurse licensure,
and in three years they graduate with a master
of science degree
in nursing. The program, in place for 14 years,
is showing the highest interest this year out of
the programs, with double its normal applicant
nursing building looks like any other on campus,
except for a few missing floors and simulated hospital
Floors 1 and
are not there; the three floors above sit on giant
pillars like some enormous concrete beach house.
a wrong turn,
you’re in a hospital room, filled with beds,
charts, and equipment, where students are poking
needles into mannequins.
Beyond the lab’s importance
in teaching students how to move patients and other
basic procedures, it’s crucial for developing
Dolores Sands has been dean of the School of Nursing since
“Right now, they’re all thumbs, but by the time they
be much more confident,” said lab director
“Generally speaking, the students walk in still feeling like
novices, still feeling like civilians, interlopers,” said Dr.
Chuck Perkins, who retired from teaching last spring. “The
role doesn’t fit really well. When
they leave the class, they really start feeling like
they’re actually nurses.”
Once in the clinical portion
of the program, students begin doing clinical course rotations
While turning out dedicated nurses is an obvious
and indispensable part of the school’s mission,
the university is unique in that it also is a major
Nursing research was in its infancy
became dean. She was determined to make the school’s
research program among the best in the nation.
“The dean was very forward-thinking,” said Dr. Sharon Brown, a nursing
professor and associate vice president for research at the university. “It’s
the kind of thing that has been going on across the country at one level or another,
particularly at the major academic institutions.
“But it is a rare situation to find a dean like Dolores Sands
who not only has the vision, but also the willingness to commit resources
and is unwavering
The efforts have paid
off as the school has been ranked No. 10 in nursing
school money received
from the National
for 2002, the highest
ranking for a nursing school not linked to a
health science center
or medical school.
Total funding for NIH research
in the School of Nursing now exceeds $19 million.
Bloom from the College of Education helps
clinical nursing instructor Patsy Rider with Spanish
granted already this year by the NIH indicate the amount received
about 20 percent
School of Nursing research topics
funded by NIH in 2002 include caregiving, education
diabetes, memory in
at-risk elderly, obesity,
breast cancer support groups, health risks
behaviors in youth, quality of life for
those with chronic
care and health
Studies funded in 2003 include topics of
asthma in children.
The school also is only
one of eight in the country that has two major NIH funded
centers—the Center for Health
Promotion and Disease Prevention Research
Populations and the newly created Southwest
for Nursing Research on Health Disparities.
“Because the school is located on an academic campus and is
not linked to a health science center or medical school, there are
unique opportunities for
to provide leadership in health research
and to establish collaborative research teams with colleagues from other disciplines,”
said Dr. Alexa Stuifbergen, associate dean for research.
Richards meets with a patient at the Children’s Wellness
Center, a school-based and university nurse-managed health
center in Del Valle, Texas.
Another outgrowth of the school’s redirection toward
research has been a $5 million endowment for nursing research provided by Gordon
and Mary Cain in 2001.
Much of the research at the school provides services
for people who otherwise wouldn’t have them, such as free
health supplies and consultations. Brown predicts that her research,
Hispanics with diabetes, has provided free
services to 1,000 people in the last nine years in Starr County in the Texas
Rio Grande Valley.
In addition, the school also manages two health centers
for children and women as part of its mission of giving back
to the community.
The school-based and
university nurse-managed Children’s Wellness Center in Del Valle, Texas offers
health care to thousands of children in the rural community
regardless of ability to pay.
Another teaching center is the Community Women’s
Wellness Center, which provides breast and cervical cancer screening for more
than 500 Travis County
women per year. The women have limited incomes or lack health insurance.
Susan Grobe, the center’s project director, sees the value of the program on
a daily basis.
“These are women who don’t have the opportunity to get
mammograms because they can’t afford them,” Grobe said. “It’s
necessary that we reach these women to make sure they are able to
get early screening for cancer, and
that they obtain the necessary follow-up care in today’s complex maze
of services for the underserved.”
The field of nursing has changed and will
continue to do so, said Sands.
“Many dramatic changes in American society—increases
in the number of elderly, major technological advances, the rise
of newly identified viral
and severe repercussions from unhealthy lifestyles—will affect nursing.
“Armed with this knowledge just makes us more dedicated in our efforts
nurses for the future,” she said.