The University of North Texas Launches a New Nursing Program

Over more than a half century, the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth has grown and evolved (from what initially was the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine) into an institution that includes schools of public health, biomedical science, pharmacy, and other healthcare professions.

IN recent years, the University of North Texas (UNT) has become acutely aware of the pressing need for more nurses—and especially registered nurses (RNs) —in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2023, UNT’s Board of Regents approved the establishment of a new college dedicated to bachelor’s degree training programs in this geographic area. The new nursing school was announced in February of 2023. The first courses will be offered in the fall semester of 2024.

This is an opportunity for RNs who don’t have a BSN degree to earn one. It is also an opportunity for RNs who do have a BSN to earn an MSN degree and become a Nurse Practitioner.

The population of Texas is growing rapidly; in 2022, it exceeded 30 million. And our population is growing older; an older population requires more frequent contact with medical professionals. Several months ago, a Dallas Morning News article written by Marin Wolf said that by 2032, Texas will face a shortfall of 57,000 RNs. That projected shortage reflects the fact that in just under a decade the statewide shortfall for RNs will be at 16 percent, and in North Central Texas it will be nearly as bad at 15 percent. These projections were developed from research conducted by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

This is a complex problem, partly because it is multitiered and cascading. Many nurses, particularly young ones, are leaving hospital jobs due to career burnout and overwork frustrations that were caused by—or at least compounded and exacerbated by—their “on the job” experiences in hospitals during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Traditionally there have been three possible paths for a healthcare worker to earn RN certification. Those paths involve either 1.) earning a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN) from a university or college, 2.) earning an associate’s degree in nursing from a community college, or 3.) earning an RN nursing diploma from an alternate accredited program, such as perhaps a large hospital or hospital system. Regardless of the path they took, every candidate for RN certification (from the state) must pass the same test.

Initially the new UNT College of Nursing will offer courses to help reduce any gaps in the education of RNs. It will provide an opportunity for an RN (who does not have at least a 4-year degree) to earn a bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing or an MSN graduate-level degree. Some of the courses will be available online.

Within a few semesters, the new school will shift its primary focus to one of providing courses toward a BSN degree program.

Marin Wolf’s Dallas Morning News article reported that a recommendation in 2010 from the National Academy of Medicine that 80 percent of a hospital facility’s nurses needs to have at least a BSN-level of training. As of 2022, approximately 72 percent of such nurses had achieved that level of academic training. At this time the program is focused on developing its curricula, hiring faculty members, identifying training partnerships for intern training at nearby hospitals, and recruiting prospective students for the new program.

The founding dean of the UNT Health Science Center’s College of Nursing is Dr. Cindy Weston. Weston grew up in Vidor, Texas, near Beaumont. As a teenager she helped care for her grandfather, who had suffered a stroke. That experience led Weston to study nursing for a BSN at Lamar University in Beaumont. Later she earned an MSN degree in nursing at the University of Texas Health Houston, and then her doctorate in nursing practice at UT Health in San Antonio. Then she lectured at UT-Tyler and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches and worked for a series of a few big hospital systems in Texas.

Weston’s most recent job was as associate dean for clinical and outreach affairs at Texas A&M’s School of Nursing. She was quite content and happy in that position. But one day a recruiter contacted her and encouraged her to apply for the position of dean at UNT Health Science Center’s College of Nursing. Cindy Weston applied and interviewed for the position, and she was hired. She officially began work on July 1, 2023 (although she was so eager to get started that she began working several days early).

Dean Weston has said: We are a metropolitan area, but we’re surrounded by vast regions of rural communities. . . Texas has the largest rural population in the entire United States. Over 3 million in our population live in rural areas. And we know that, when you live in a rural area, you have poor health outcomes and higher potential mortality rates from conditions because of later diagnosis of those conditions.

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