In good hands

Passionate and skilled, the School of Nursing’s high-demand graduates are reducing the state’s growing shortage of registered nurses

By Becky Purvis

When Ana Jimenez crossed the Texas Hall stage to receive her nursing diploma in May, she didn’t think about the tough labor market or how much money she would make once she landed a job. Instead, she reflected on the path she had taken to get there.

She remembered emigrating from Mexico with her parents, who wanted her to have a better education and go to college. She recalled attending a magnet high school where she could explore medical careers.

Most of all, she thought about the doctor in the United States she visited for the first time—scared because she didn’t speak English and he didn’t speak Spanish. But a nurse, alumna Mary Diaz (’99 BSN), put the family at ease.

nursing students helping a "virtual" patient

“UT Arlington graduates are desirable because they’re trained in a practical nursing environment. They come out more confident and more ready to deal with the real thing.”

“Mary made my mother and me feel more comfortable because she could explain things in our own language,” Jimenez says. “I want to be able to help others in the same way.”

Jimenez thought that would be as a doctor until she discovered during a hospital clinical assignment her junior year how involved nurses are in a patient’s care.

“Doctors are more limited in the amount of time they can spend with patients and their families,” she says. “We deal with the whole person, not just the illness.”

Years later, as a UT Arlington student, Jimenez worked for the same doctor she visited at age 11. There she found her passion, caring for patients alongside Diaz, who remains a mentor and role model.

Ana Jimenez, Mary Diaz and Alfred Huang

Recent graduate Ana Jimenez, left, met Mary Diaz (‘99 BSN) as a frightened 11-year-old in the office of Dr. Alfred Huang. Years later as a UT Arlington nursing student, Jimenez worked alongside Diaz, who remains a mentor and role model.

Easing the nursing shortage

Jimenez was one of 172 Bachelor of Science in Nursing students who graduated from UT Arlington in May. Unlike many in the Class of 2009, she chose a field where graduates are in demand: More than 97 percent of the University’s nursing students have a job by the time they earn their degree.

Even so, the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies reported an 11.2 percent shortfall in registered nurses in Texas in 2008—about 22,000 RNs. The national numbers are somewhat better but are expected to worsen. The National Center for Workforce Analysis predicts that more than 800,000 RN positions will go unfilled nationwide by 2020.

“There are so many options when choosing nursing as a profession,” says Donna Bertram (’80 BSN), chief nursing officer and vice president for Texas Health Arlington Memorial. Bertram has spent more than 44 years as a nurse and has seen the field expand to more than 2.9 million nurses in the United States alone.

Donna Bertram

Alumna Donna Bertram, chief nursing officer and vice president for Texas Health Arlington Memorial, says nursing schools can’t turn out graduates fast enough.

“Schools of nursing cannot turn out graduates fast enough,” she says. “And they are turning away potential students because of a shortage of nursing faculty.”

Approximately 8,000 students were denied admission to Texas nursing schools in 2008, making the competition extremely difficult. Jimenez was one of 100 selected from 600 applicants—statistics the School of Nursing aims to improve. With funding from the Legislature, the school plans to double its BSN enrollment from 400 to 800 by 2013.

The school will receive $5 million over the next two years to expand use of the Smart Hospital as a simulation learning facility locally and in rural areas and to leverage existing public-private partnerships. The funding also will facilitate increased enrollment in the 14 other North Texas nursing programs and prepare new faculty to accommodate more students.

Edward Deveau and Rowena Samonte

Senior Edward Deveau works with registered nurse Rowena Samonte at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Deveau, who spent more than 20 years in the Marine Corps, considers nursing a “higher calling.”

“Our demonstrated strategic successes, partnerships and commitment to growth and quality are the foundations for doubling our enrollment and becoming a regional nursing education center,” says Elizabeth Poster, dean of the School of Nursing. “Doubling the number of BSN graduates and assisting other schools of nursing to increase their enrollments will significantly address the severe nursing shortage in our region and state.”

Funds also will be used to hire additional faculty and staff, pay operating expenses and buy equipment for the Smart Hospital.

The School of Nursing also offers a Master of Science in Nursing Education option that prepares nurses to practice as nurse educators in nursing schools and health care delivery systems. The first class of students began in fall 2008.

“The program’s emphasis is on the knowledge and skills needed to develop curricula, teaching skills and evaluation strategies,” program director Wendy Barr says. “By developing these skills, it will be able to prepare nurses to meet the challenges of the future.”

Graduates are eligible to take the National League for Nursing Certified Nurse Educator Examination. For academic nurse educators, the exam and certification communicate to students, peers and the academic and health care communities that the highest standards of excellence are being met.

Selfless service

Edward Deveau pursues those standards. This fall the nursing senior entered his final semester on track to graduate magna cum laude. He has sailed a different route than most: A former Marine, he decided to become a nurse aboard a ship somewhere in the western Pacific.

“I was ready for a change,” he says.

He had spent more than 20 years in the Marine Corps, working his way up from mechanic to logistical officer. He had a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MBA but was burned out on logistics.

This was a “once-in-a-lifetime chance” for him to change careers once he retired from the Marines. Married with two children, Deveau took an assessment test that indicated he’d be suited for a nursing career. He began doing research that very day and eventually decided on Texas—his wife is from San Antonio—and UT Arlington.

“It was my first and only choice for nursing school,” he says.

He hopes to stay close to the military when he graduates in December. He currently is on clinical assignment at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“I understand where the servicemen are coming from,” he says. “I’ve walked in their shoes, even spent some time at the naval hospital in Bethesda. I’ve seen some seriously wounded Marines and soldiers.

“My passion for serving others continues to be my life focus. After serving as a Marine, I look forward to serving mankind as a nurse. The fields are on opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both have at their core a selfless service to a greater cause—I would even say a higher calling.”

Once he earns his BSN degree, Deveau knows he’ll be prepared to take his RN licensure exam and begin that calling.

For graduates, one of the most challenging components of the job hunt is proving they have experience, including on-the-job training and co-curricular activities. One way the School of Nursing prepares its graduates is through clinical assignments. Students work with faculty and alongside staff mentors in a real-world setting.

Deveau has worked in an intensive care unit and found that the surgical trauma ICU provides challenges similar to those he encountered in the Marines. Jimenez worked in medical-surgical, progressive care and rehabilitation units in area hospitals.

Both were involved in student organizations. Deveau was vice president of the Arlington Nursing Students Association, while Jimenez served as secretary of the Hispanic Student Nurses Association. She attended the National Association of Hispanic Nurses 33rd Annual National Conference, which gave her an opportunity to meet Hispanic high school students interested in nursing.

Skilled and prepared

The School of Nursing partners with over 800 medical facilities where students are exposed to core concepts in specialties that include adult care, critical care, maternity and pediatric nursing, community health nursing, psychiatric mental health nursing and gerontology.

Students also prepare in the Smart Hospital with its simulation approach. Rather than practice giving injections on oranges (which used to be the norm), they work with more than 30 manikins (adults, children and babies) that can be programmed to present an array of problems with varying degrees of severity.

Scenarios include treating gashes, gangrene and gunshot wounds and assessing a trauma victim with metal sticking out of his head, to treating a patient’s foaming and watering eyes after a bioterrorism attack. Specially trained actors serve as patients or family members in clinical teaching scenes.

“UT Arlington graduates are desirable because they’re trained in a practical nursing environment,” Bertram says. “It streamlines the transition because they have had practice in the Smart Hospital. They come out more confident and more ready to deal with the real thing.”

Like 95 percent of UT Arlington BSN graduates in the past three years, Jimenez has passed the RN licensure exam. And like her former classmates, she’s now in demand. Some day she’d love to work in that doctor’s office she visited as a frightened child.

Perhaps she’ll change a life, just as nurse Diaz changed hers.

Nursing by the numbers

97 • percentage of UT Arlington nursing students who have a job by graduation

95 • percentage of UT Arlington BSN graduates who passed the RN licensure exam over the past three years

22,000 • registered nurses Texas needed to fill vacancies in 2008

8,000 • students denied admission to Texas nursing schools in 2008 due to faculty shortages

800 • annual BSN enrollment the School of Nursing plans to have by 2013—double the current enrollment

Sources: School of Nursing and Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies

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