When Appalachian State University officially opened its College of Health Sciences on July 1, ?the school was fulfilling a vision tauted by the UNC system long before the economic downturn limited the potential for growth.
With its four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree accredited last week, Appalachian State accepted 20 nursing students for its first class, launching a program that will benefit the state in the long run.
In 2007, UNC-system President Erskine Bowles launched UNC Tomorrow, a strategy for how system schools could meet the state’s needs in the next two decades, ranging from health care to sustainability.
“One of the priorities in that strategic plan is to train health professionals and actively address the health and wellness needs in not only the region but in North Carolina as well,” said Fred Whitt, dean of the newly founded college.
The college is still awaiting its home. Its programs, ranging from the four-year nursing degree to speech pathology, are located in eight buildings across campus.
“By pulling all these programs together, (it) will certainly help us maximize our dollars and leverage our resources ansd give these programs a home,” Whitt said.
“And when the economy does turn around, we’ll be poised to add new programs; physical therapy, occupational therapy, nurse practioner. We’re looking at growing down the road.”
According to the N.C. Health Professions Data System, there were only 374 registered nurses in the whole of Watauga County where Appalachian State is located. Training health care professionals locally will benefit both students and the region’s health care system.
The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has been working with the university, providing internships and courting future employees.
The system donated a piece of land across from Watagua Medical Center where the college will be built as soon as state funding is available.
“What we had noticed is that in northwest North Carolina … the UNC ?system really did not have a lot of programs for health science, so we formed a partnership basically where we said we’ll help you,” said the system’s president, Richard Sparks.
Although the UNC system already has 11 four-year nursing programs, they are mostly concentrated in the eastern half of the sate.
“All the evidence suggests we need a lot more nurses in that region, certainly the hospitals would like to have a more local source of nurses being prepared there at a baccalaureate level,” said Alan Mabe, the UNC-system senior vice president for academic affairs.
“Nursing seems to be a field where more people want to enter than we have spots for.”
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