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Tried and True

Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing strengthens America’s most trustworthy profession

Volume 14 | Number 1 | September 2012

By Steve Kiggins
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Nobody. Not teachers. Not physicians. Not lawyers. Not even police officers.

There aren’t any professionals in the United States who are more trusted than nurses, according to Gallup’s annual poll of adults from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Not pharmacists. Not funeral directors. Not even clergy. Nobody.

For 12 of the past 13 years.

“I don’t think we should be surprised by those findings, either,” says Mary Burman, one of Wyoming’s most respected nursing leaders. “Think about this: Nurses are with people at critical moments in their lives—in the emergency room after a person has been in an accident, in a clinic with someone who has just been told they have cancer, in the hospital with new parents after the birth of a baby, in the home following the death of a grandparent and so on.

“And, interestingly, other studies have shown that inadequate nurse staffing is associated with poorer health outcomes,” she says. “When you put it all together, it is not surprising that people rate nurses as the most trustworthy professionals.”

And put your trust in this: The University of Wyoming’s Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing (FWWSON) is committed to keeping it that way.

A regional and national leader in professional nursing, outreach and rural health, the UW school promotes and protects health through education, scholarship and service while striving to help address a global nursing shortage that could rise to critical levels in Wyoming, a state with one of the oldest populations in America.

To complement its bread-and-butter program, a four-year Basic BSN, and its increasingly popular Bachelors Reach for Accelerated Nursing Degree (BRAND) program, which launched in 2008 for students with a previous non-nursing baccalaureate degree who desire to become a registered nurse, the FWWSON added a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) this fall that will take UW students to the cutting edge of advanced practice nursing education.

The nursing school also offers an RN-BSN program for nurses with associate degrees who want to pursue baccalaureate degrees and a nurse educator program that plays an important role in providing nurse educators for Wyoming community colleges.

The new standard for nurse practitioners, clinical nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists and certified registered nurse anesthetists, the DNP takes a more holistic approach to patient care by bridging the gap between the science of health behavior changes and health providers.

“We have a long and very successful track record in nurse practitioner education, and we are taking that strong foundation to the next level in the DNP program. The curriculum, including didactic courses and clinical experiences, is designed to develop sophisticated clinicians who can help people maintain and improve their health,” says Burman, who joined the UW nursing faculty in 1992 and has served as dean since 2008. “Graduates of the program will certainly be able to treat illness, like diabetes, with medications, but in addition we are giving them the knowledge and skills to work closely with people using a variety of health promotion and lifestyle management approaches, including exercise and nutrition.”

Adds Ann Marie Hart, coordinator of UW’s DNP program: “Our graduates will be practicing at the highest level of nursing, and a clinical degree, like the DNP, really honors nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses with the degree they deserve as the highest clinicians in their field.”

Wanting more

A wave of panic swept over Chelsea Carter, from her head to her toes.

Less than a week into her senior capstone practicum at the Meredith and Jeannie Ray Cancer Center in Laramie, Carter was summoned to the director’s office for an unscheduled meeting. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, what did I do wrong? I’ve only been here five days!’” says Carter, her eyes wide as she recalls the day. “I was so nervous.”

Her fear was all for naught. Like so many UW nursing students before her, Carter had only impressed. With a bright smile on her face, Carter says, “When I stepped into her office, she told me, ‘We are just so pleased with you and I want you to be a part of our staff.’”

She had a job. But she wanted more.

That’s why Carter was back on the UW campus in August as one of the first 15 DNP students, determined to increase her knowledge in the intensive three-year program, including summers, that is quickly replacing master’s degree programs in America’s most trustworthy profession.

The DNP program at UW has four primary focuses: 1) to provide students with the knowledge and skills to help patients make health behavior changes; 2) to help students learn to use innovation, such as electronic health records, to improve health care; 3) to improve students’ practice management skills; and 4) to help students’ use of evidence-based practices to benefit patients.

Through the DNP program, UW graduates will be better suited not only to treat patients but to assist them in leading a healthier lifestyle.

“We know that health behavior changes and lifestyle choices regarding diet, physical activity, stress management, sleep and other things are important. We talk about those things in society. We talk a lot about it—and around it—in health care,” says Hart, a 1996 UW graduate who has worked on the nursing faculty since 2003. “We’re really good at saying, ‘You know, have you ever thought about quitting smoking before? You really should,’ or ‘Have you ever thought about exercise? You really should.’ And, maybe, if we’re really kind, we’ll give them a pamphlet and say, ‘This pamphlet might help you.’

“So, we’re good at giving pamphlets, we’re good at advising people to make health behavior changes. But, the reality is, we’re not good at really helping people to make healthy changes.”

That, she says, is about to change.

“Most of the time, I think people know that they need to be eating better, that they need to eating less calories. They know they shouldn’t be drinking as much soda pop or going to fast food or having desserts and chips,” Hart says. “They want to change. The desire is there. But we get stuck in ruts and we get stuck in routines and, also, life is hard for a lot of people and these are ways of coping.”

“What we’re going to do, through the DNP program, is provide our students with the skills to help people develop better coping mechanisms.”

Many changes in six decades

A baccalaureate program of nursing was considered visionary when Amelia Leino was instructed by the UW Board of Trustees in 1950 to establish a nursing school at the state’s only university.

The nursing school has seen many changes in the six decades since, moving from the College of Arts and Sciences building to the old Fieldhouse to the old tower of the Student Union to, finally, its own building. It was first a department, then a college and, finally, a school.

The curriculum, fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, has evolved, too, thanks to the generosity of transformative gifts from Roy and Fay Whitney, Mick and Susie McMurry through the McMurry Foundation, the Griffin Foundation and Carolyn and Al Carollo.

The school was renamed in honor of Fay Whitney in 2003 following a $3 million pledge from her husband, made as a birthday gift to his wife and to honor her career and contributions in the field of nursing. The funds were used to help in the renovation of the old Biochemistry Building for the College of Health Sciences.

The latest major gift, a $1 million donation in March from the Casper-based McMurry Foundation, will provide 50-75 scholarships for working nurses who desire to earn a bachelor’s degree or to prospective enrollees in the BRAND program. The gift also provides the salary for a full-time nursing faculty member in Casper to recruit and advise nursing students, particularly those interested in the RN-BSN and BRAND programs.

The gift also will play a key role in Wyoming’s ability to meet the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ goals for Nursing’s Future 2020, which includes increasing the national percentage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees in nursing. About 36 percent of Wyoming nurses today have bachelor’s degrees in nursing; the institute’s goal is to increase that number to 80 percent nationally by 2020.

The list of other key and regular contributors includes Marcia Dale, one of Burman’s predecessors as dean, as well as Barry Gasdek, Clay Unger, Sonja Wenger and Betsy Wiest.

“I don’t think you can truly put into words just how critical the support of our donors is to the school’s success,” says Burman.

The school’s longstanding aspiration to serve Wyoming also is boosted by its graduates, many of whom remain in the state to address the needs of rural clients, families and communities.

“Our graduates are so devoted and will do anything for our students,” says Hart. “I will have graduates from all over the state contact me and say, ‘I want students. I’ve been given a wonderful education, I’m now up and established, and I want to give back.’ We really couldn’t do it without them.”

When she graduates, Chelsea Carter says she will stay, too—like her grandfather, a former Laramie physician; her uncle, who works at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center; a grandmother and two of her aunts, all of whom were nurses in Wyoming; and another grandmother who is a retired Wyoming social worker.

“The UW School of Nursing is just incredible: great mentors, great role models, great clinical experience. I’ve had a wonderful experience, and, in the future, I want to make sure other students have that same experience,” Carter says.

“Across the nation, the University of Wyoming might not be the most well-known university. But I think we’re an incredible university with so many good schools and programs, especially the School of Nursing,” she says. “I want the nursing students who come here to feel confident that they’re receiving the best possible education and that they’re being prepared to go out into the world and be the best possible nurse practitioners.”

Trust her.

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