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UNC School of Nursing starts new degree program

In a time of health care reform and aging baby boomers, the UNC School of Nursing is educating students to meet the increased demand for nurses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020. The projected average growth rate for all occupations is 14 percent.

The School of Nursing began offering a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree this academic year. Fourteen students who already hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree are currently enrolled in this program.

“(The program) will help these advanced practice nurses be more successful in the roles that they find themselves in,” said Debra Barksdale, director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Barksdale said the DNP degree helps its students to become stronger leaders and to better work as a team with other professionals. She said she and other faculty members started making plans for the program in 2004.

The School of Nursing has suffered under budget cuts in recent years, peaking when the school had to cut enrollment by 25 percent in 2011. Enrollment has since risen slightly.

Kristen Swanson, dean of the School of Nursing, said in an email that the school plans to reallocate funds from the MSN program to the DNP program. She said she expects the MSN program to decrease in size and the DNP program to increase.

Megan Williams, president of the North Carolina Nurses Association and an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, said the profession of registered nurse is the largest in the North Carolina health workforce, with about 120,000 licensed RNs in the state.

She said professional development is important for all nurses, even those who are not undergoing formal education after they have been licensed.

“There is new technology all the time, which nurses have to learn about to continue to provide good care,” Williams said. “Health care is complex and evolving. It is a tremendous demand and responsibility for nurses to stay on top of relevant information and to continue to do research to improve patient care.”

Barksdale said there is a high level of interest in the DNP program at UNC and that information sessions held so far have had strong attendance.

“When many people think nursing, they think bedside, which is a very important component, but that is not all that nursing can lead one to be,” she said.

The program will be opened to those who currently hold a bachelor’s degree beginning next fall. It is currently only open to those who already hold a master’s degree.

Catie Beeson and Hayden Byrd, undergraduates enrolled in the UNC School of Nursing, said they find the major challenging but rewarding.

Beeson said so far in her time in nursing school, she has given injections, administered medication, taken care of wounds and bathed patients, among other clinical tasks.

“We’ve been able to already get into the hospital, speak with patients and practice our skills. It’s nice to already see what your career is going to be,” Beeson said.

Byrd said she has a positive outlook for the profession of nursing as well as for the higher education provided for nurses at UNC.

“I would say the job market for nursing is really open, we’re always in demand,” Byrd said.

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