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Changing the Culture for the Good: New admission process smooths the way for freshmen

Posted: June 13, 2014

School of Nursing Freshmen Students

Freshman admitted for the fall semester get acquainted with the
School of Nursing during summer orientation.

For many first-year students, going away to college is a big step, sometimes even a scary one. Questions abound: Will I succeed? Will I make friends? Will I be able to register for the classes I need?

Those are good questions and ones to which The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing can help provide answers. The School recently adopted an undergraduate admissions process that should make the transition for the class of 2018 a little less frightening.

In the past, students were admitted — after a competitive process — into the nursing program as juniors. This fall, freshmen admitted to UT Austin who declared nursing as their first choice major were admitted directly into the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. A newly revised curriculum will have students taking nursing courses earlier than in the previous degree plan. As sophomores, they will begin hands-on clinical practice rather than having to wait until their junior year.

“Freshmen entering the School of Nursing will be spending a lot of time together over the next few years, and faculty will have more time to work with each cohort as they develop the critical knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to think like nurses,” said Dr. Linda Carpenter, assistant dean for student affairs. “Students will prepare for professional careers and develop a deeper understanding of health-care ethics and the complexities involved in caring for people. We believe this will change the culture for the good.”

From a curriculum perspective, allowing students to spread course requirements over four years will enable them to manage their schedule and course load with some flexibility. In the past, some students may have been unable to take a prerequisite course in the proper sequence in order to complete the rest of their coursework, leaving them no choice but to fall a semester behind. Although many courses still must be sequential, the new curriculum allows more flexibility when choosing schedules.

Upon entering the nursing program, students will still have an option to sign up for a first-year interest group (FIG). The FIG is a group of 18 first-year students who take three classes together during their first fall semester. Each group also attends weekly seminars led by a peer mentor and an academic advisor. FIG students develop a sense of community as they attend classes, study, and participate in various activities and events with their mentor and fellow first-years.

“It’s one way we make this huge university feel smaller,” Dr. Carpenter explained.

Across the country, several changes are afoot in health-care education, and the School of Nursing is addressing these as well. The School was successful in securing a significant grant under the leadership of Dr. Gayle Timmerman, associate dean of academic affairs, to promote inter-professional education (IPE) at UT Austin. This has prompted several initiatives to build IPE into the nursing curriculum as well as curricula in the College of Pharmacy, the School of Social Work and the upcoming Dell Medical School.

“There was nothing wrong with the old curriculum. These updates are in response to a national call for more IPE courses as well as evidence-based and advanced care practice instruction,” said Dr. Carpenter. “We’ve been an integral part of establishing IPE on the UT Austin campus and promoting evidence-based research and practice, and now our curriculum more accurately reflects that.”

But the biggest question on every new UT Austin nursing student’s mind is still: When do I get to wear the burnt orange scrubs? The good news is that, too, has been moved up to the sophomore year.