UTA opens Center for Rural Health and Nursing

College of Nursing and Health Innovation aims to improve rural nursing education, health outcomes

Tuesday, Mar 01, 2022 • Neph Rivera : Contact

From left, Elanda Douglas, Aspen Drude and Elizabeth Merwin pose for photo." _languageinserted="true
From left, Elanda Douglas, Aspen Drude and Elizabeth Merwin

The College of Nursing and Health Innovation (CONHI) at The University of Texas at Arlington has launched a new center to enhance access to health care for Texas’ rural communities.

The Center for Rural Health and Nursing is funded by a $4 million legislative appropriation by the state of Texas. The funding will support the center’s efforts to improve rural nursing education and the health outcomes of rural populations.

“I am very thankful of the Legislature for its support of the University’s efforts to educate and train the next generation of rural health care providers,” said Teik C. Lim, UTA interim president. “Through this new center, we can significantly expand the reach of one of the nation’s top nursing programs to improve the health of rural Texans.”

Elizabeth Merwin, the center’s executive director and dean of CONHI, hopes the center will develop and foster a model for providing nursing education to rural residents aiming to become registered nurses and nurse practitioners. This model will support and educate those students while they reside in their home communities. It will also aim to reduce the shortage of nurses and other health providers in an effort to support access to health care for Texas’ rural populations.

“Thanks to generous funding by the state of Texas, CONHI will be able to form sustainable partnerships with rural communities that improve the quality of life for underserved populations in those areas,” Merwin said. “Our goal is to form close relationships with key organizations and stakeholders within rural communities in Texas to improve access to health care by enhancing the health professional workforce.”

In its first year, the center will develop partnerships in rural communities to perform educational needs assessments of registered nurses and nurse practitioners. Once needs have been identified, the center will provide training to support the communities’ current health care providers and educate new, incoming nurses and health professionals.

“UTA has a proven track record both in Texas and nationwide as a leading center of excellence for nursing education,” state Sen. Kelly Hancock said. “I have great confidence in the university’s ability, through its new Center for Rural Health and Nursing, to bring its nationally recognized nursing education and training programs to improve both nursing education and health outcomes in our state’s rural communities.”

Aspen Drude, the center’s manager, said the center aims to support existing providers and recruit young people from rural populations to become nurses in their communities.

“We want to make sure students who are in rural high schools and community colleges have paths into our programs,” Drude said. “We hope that our continuing education programs will meet the needs of current nurses and increase opportunities for rural residents, while meeting the workforce needs of the rural community.”

The center’s nursing education initiatives will be supported by Elanda Douglas, a clinical assistant professor and nurse practitioner with extensive experience as a family nurse practitioner.

“It’s really important for nursing students to understand that when they work in rural communities, they have to be well-rounded because they could be the only nurse in the clinic,” Douglas said. “Our rural health curriculum will prepare students with a broad set of skills to meet the day-to-day demands of rural care.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rural Americans face numerous health disparities compared with their urban counterparts. They are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, respiratory disease and stroke. Factors that put them at greater risk include higher rates of smoking, lower physical activity and less access to health care and health insurance. Rural communities also face unique workforce challenges and, too often, shortages of health care providers.

Reshma Thomas is a first-year student in CONHI’s Master of Science in Nursing program who has joined the center as a student nursing assistant. As a family nurse practitioner in training, Thomas is passionate about serving vulnerable rural populations.

“Nearly 25% of Texas’ population lives in rural communities and suffers from harmful health disparities and lack of care,” Thomas said. “Providing preventive care and raising the health care standards in these communities is vital.”

More on the center and updates can be found at its new website https://ruralhealthcenter.uta.edu/.