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UNT Health Science Center launches new nursing college to address a North Texas shortage

Dr. Weston said one of the state's greatest needs is registered nurses prepared at the bachelor's and graduate levels.
Dr. Weston said one of the state's greatest needs is registered nurses prepared at the bachelor's or graduate levels.

Several local health institutions have launched efforts to address a growing local and national shortage of doctors and nurses. Add UNT’s Health Science Center to the list with a new College of Nursing. The new dean, Dr. Cynthia Weston, told KERA’s Sam Baker the new nursing college will help serve the area of the state most in need, North Texas.

Why is North Texas so in need of nurses?

I think the area is experiencing significant growth coupled with what we've just seen and the needs after going through this pandemic.

We have projections that our workforce is aging, that we've had some nurses who have left the profession and we need to create pipelines and pathways so that we refill the supply as health care continues to grow as we're addressing complex health conditions.

Texas currently ranks last out of the 50 states for access and affordability to health care. We need nurses to help fill that gap and access to care.

Are we talking nurses in general or a specific type?

It's really nurses across all levels of preparation and education. We know that we need registered nurses in Texas. That's one of the greatest deficits for our state. Registered nurses prepared at the bachelor's level impact patient outcomes.

But we also need nurses prepared at the graduate level who have the skill sets of innovation and of solving these complex healthcare issues that we're facing.

Healthcare is evolving to use more technology. Remote patient monitoring. A-I is being introduced into the healthcare workforce. We need nurses who are skilled in how to leverage these technologies to improve health outcomes in our state.

With this nursing shortage, is the public at risk?

When you hear that hospitals don't have appropriate beds, what they're really referring to oftentimes is not about an actual bed or space, but the nurses who are available to take care of those individuals.

And so we need more nurses so that we have the capacity to reach the health care needs throughout our state and really beyond. This is a nationwide issue, but we know that it's particularly impacting North Texas.

I realize there are still a lot more plans and details left to work out with the new nursing college. But do you have an idea of how much of an impact the new nursing college can have on that shortage?

We will produce the best nurses that are serving in North Texas. But we have to do that in partnership with our community clinical partners.

The greatest restriction on growing nursing programs has been two things:

First, adequate clinical training opportunities for nurses having enough places to conduct their clinical education that requires community partnerships.

The second, oftentimes, has been qualified faculty to prepare the next generation of nurses, and it's not because there aren't enough educated and qualified individuals out there to serve as faculty. Oftentimes it's been because faculty salaries have been quite a bit less than a practicing nurse's role. So we have to address those two things.

And I am committed and our organization is committed to forming and strengthening community partnerships for educational opportunities for our future nurses.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.