The Faces of Healthcare Education at UWF

July 30, 2018 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.

Nursing students

I would be hard pressed to find any recent list of top-demand careers that isn’t dominated by requests for healthcare professionals. In Florida, two critical issues impacting healthcare include an aging population demanding more care and an aging workforce of nurses nearing retirement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects healthcare occupations to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026. The Florida Center for Nursing, a state workforce center that recommends solutions to address Florida's nursing shortage, estimates that 56,000 RNs and 12,500 LPNs will be in demand by 2025. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor statistics anticipated needed growth of 12,000 new medical laboratory professionals per year to meet growing demand. The list goes on.

The mission statement of the University of West Florida charges us to serve the needs of the professions and society. With that in mind, UWF stands ready, willing and able to produce the health care and health industry experts our communities need. With a 99 percent pass rate on the NCLEX nursing licensing exam, a newly-formed college of health, recently-named undergraduate and graduate nursing programs, a new building housing our health administrators, and a physician’s assistant partnership with FSU, the future is bright for our students wishing to enter healthcare fields. More importantly, the communities we serve will benefit exponentially from the infusion of the top talent we provide.

Innovative programs meeting community needs

A major factor in alleviating the nursing shortage in Florida is to provide more opportunities in nursing education, and UWF’s School of Nursing is doing just that. Offering a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an online RN to BSN program and a master’s in nursing, UWF has one of the top nursing programs in the state. The baccalaureate degree in nursing/master's degree in nursing at UWF is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

If you’re researching nursing school rankings, an important factor to consider is whether a nursing program offers high-impact learning experiences – like hands-on clinical fellowships, professional development and research opportunities, and community health projects. Before they graduate from our pre-licensure program, UWF nursing students gain experience in specialty clinical areas, as well as general practice. Their experience culminates with each nursing student being paired with a professional nurse to work 180 hours together in a hospital setting.

We recently announced the creation of the Medical Laboratory Technician to Medical Laboratory Scientist, or MLT to MLS, program, which will be offered through Complete Florida. The program is the first of its kind in the state, with classes scheduled to begin Aug. 27.

Our Department of Exercise Science and Community Health houses a state-of-the-art lab which includes Synthetic Cadavers. The SynDavers allow our students to visualize the structures within the body as they interact with patients on the surface level. Exercise science and athletic training students are able to gain a clear understanding of interactions as well as neural and vascular systems, while nursing students are afforded a more in-depth experience for intramuscular injections and intravenous line placements. Students in public health, health sciences and medical laboratory sciences programs also access the SynDavers for discipline-specific, hands-on experiences. These hands-on experiences ensure our students are ready to tackle the next big challenges facing their disciplines.

People making a difference

We wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of our community without generous donors committed to making a difference. In 2017, a gift in excess of $5 million from Dr. Usha and Mahadeb Kundu launched the stand-alone college, which was re-named the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health.

In April, we announced a $250,000 gift commitment from The Earl Hutto Foundation, Inc. to name the Earl and Nancy Hutto Master of Science in Nursing program. The D.W. McMillan Foundation gave $250,000 in 2016, supporting UWF’s undergraduate nursing education program, which was renamed the Dr. D.W. McMillan BSN Nursing Program.

These generous donations have helped provide high-quality experiences for our students, including enhancing the classroom environment, enrichment through community and service learning and scholarship support. Our ability to continue to attract support in the future will be critical as we address our growing needs.

Welcoming a new dean

The momentum surrounding our health programs continues as we welcome Dr. Denise Seabert as the new dean of the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health. A leader in obesity prevention, HIV education and academic standards for health and wellness, Dr. Seabert has dedicated her career to the professional preparation of health educators. With Dr. Seabert’s leadership and continued support from private donors and corporate sponsors, we will continue to strengthen UWF’s role in community health throughout the region.

Rock star faculty dedicated to student success

Our health faculty are truly world-class academics dedicated to student success and furthering contributions in healthcare. Jill Van Der Like in the School of Nursing, is passionate about providing unique experiences that make our students more prepared, like the Nursing Skills and Simulation Lab. This lab recreates a hospital setting and real-world scenarios with a mannequin “patient.”

Dr. Justice Mbizo motivates his students by teaching them that public health is about the lives of people, uplifting each other and connecting it to real life. Our students rave about his unique teaching approach and personalized attention.

Exceptional students

Our students never cease to amaze me, with their dedication and passion for their careers. We hear from employers that our graduates are not only work-force ready, but are also compassionate, engaged and strive for excellence.

Nursing major Cheyanne Franklin says she wants her career to constantly push her to the limits. She goes above and beyond in everything she does. While attending UWF, Cheyanne has co-authored research articles, presented at research events and helped create a Breast Cancer Symposium. She is very active in many community activities, such as community garden work and foot care for the homeless.

With the help of the spirited community of learners in the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health, UWF is launching the next generation of leaders in healthcare – who will change the world.

Partnerships allow for more offerings, community engagement

Partnerships with other universities have also allowed us to expand our offerings and prepare professional nurses for leadership positions, advanced nursing roles and doctoral studies (including a cooperative doctorate with the University of Florida). Students pursuing an MSN select from one of three areas of specialization - nursing education, nurse executive or family nurse practitioner.

On the second floor of the University Park Center on campus, there are shared office suites, where faculty and staff from the UWF Usha Kundu, MD College of Health and the Florida State University College of Medicine’s Pensacola Regional Campus are available to meet with students and community partners. A shared multipurpose room on the second floor is utilized for medicine classes for students and continuing education courses for local physicians.

It’s partnerships like these, along with high-impact practices, that prepare highly qualified healthcare professionals with the in-demand skills our workforce needs.

Of course, high-quality programs present significant challenges. We compete with the rest of the country for top faculty. The need for low student/faculty ratios can slow growth even as we race to recruit more professors. Facilities must be state of the art to meet the new technological requirements of the industry, and clinical sites for our students to practice their skills must be secured.

Fortunately, we are geared up to win. With the help of the spirited community of learners in the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health, UWF is launching the next generation of leaders in healthcare – who will change the world.