"Our intention is to be a catalyst for change that advances health care."
In facing those challenges, tremendous opportunities are emerging for nurse leaders. Nurses work as executives, managers, researchers, educators, legislators, and in a host of other positions critical to the health of the public. As a result, nurses are ideally poised to lead changes in practice, policy, systems and education that will save lives and improve health care.
Several dozen promising nurse leaders are arriving at UC Davis in September to become the inaugural classes at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. They’re the first to participate in an innovative graduate program that draws on the university’s longstanding tradition of interdisciplinary and interprofessional education to transform health through nursing leadership.
"Our intention is to be a catalyst for change that advances health care," says Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing at UC Davis Health System and founding dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.
The school is named for the philanthropist Betty Irene Moore, whose generous grant – a $100 million commitment from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation – established the school and will support it for the next decade. (See related story.)
The school’s goal is to "improve the health of the public, and not just in the traditional sense," says Debbie Ward, the school’s associate dean.
To realize that bold vision, the school’s initial focus is firmly on establishing innovative doctorate and master’s degree programs.
Launching a graduate program first allows for the development and growth of a strong research program, which will further enhance and distinguish a pre-licensure program at UC Davis when it is phased in over the years, Young says.
"Graduate programs are much more flexible, allowing us to be more innovative," Young says. "We are starting with a very fresh conceptual base that will flourish as the program grows, but it also will accommodate new avenues of thought and innovation."
That new outlook gives the school a distinct advantage, according to Eileen Sullivan-Marx, associate dean for practice and community affairs at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, who helped develop the curriculum for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.
"You can skip over a lot of old baggage that might be hanging over other schools, where there can be this attitude that ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ " says Sullivan-Marx, who was a consulting faculty member and continues to play an advisory role. "It gives you a lot of opportunities to look at things differently."
That’s vital, Sullivan-Marx adds, because "nurses need to be ready for what is going on in the real world of health care."
To prepare future nurse leaders, the doctoral program is geared to help them develop business savvy and an understanding of the political system, and it emphasizes cultural inclusiveness and the use of innovative technology.
The curriculum includes core courses on Health Status and Care Systems, Implementation Science, Research Design in Nursing and Health Care, Informatics, and Leadership in Health Care.
The emphasis on leadership development is particularly important, Sullivan-Marx says.
"You have to know how to organize a team, how to run it and how to be successful as part of a team. We have to do that much more in the health sciences than we have been doing."
Working in collaboration with people from other disciplines and backgrounds is vital in dealing with complex health-care challenges, Ward adds.
"I don’t think you could name a health problem that could be solved by one profession alone," she says.
Working in collaboration with people from other disciplines and backgrounds is vital in dealing with complex health care challenges such as the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Ward points to the multiple perspectives of epidemiologists, anthropologists, mathematicians and a host of other specialists who are addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
"Nurses have phenomenal opportunities to lead teams addressing problems such as that," Ward says.
To foster that mindset in the classroom, graduate classes at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing are offered by a graduate group comprising faculty from nursing and other academic disciplines such as biological science, medicine and nutrition.
"We’re looking at ways we can bring our students and faculty together to learn in a broader community of scholarship," Young says.
The master’s program includes many of the same emphases as the doctoral program, although it’s more of an applied curriculum. Graduates will be able to teach in nursing education programs in California community colleges, which are under pressure to recruit more faculty. A shortage of qualified faculty has been a barrier to responding to the enrollment demands in nursing programs.
The innovative curriculum at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing attracted tremendous interest from potential students. Ward reports that the school received more than 200 applications for eight doctoral and 25 master’s degree slots for this fall. Two of the students beginning the doctoral research program have backgrounds in informatics and public health rather than as clinical nurses.
The school’s first doctoral students were selected for their excellent qualifications, along with their performance during in-person interviews aimed at assessing their passion for research, their communication skills and their leadership potential.
"We want to kick off the school with stellar students in the inaugural classes," Ward says. "Superbly well-qualified, of course, but we also want a group of people who can inspire and spark each other."
The need is significant. More than 81 million Americans over age 20 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. Peripheral vascular disease is estimated to affect up to 10 million Americans. UC Davis Health System is improving cardiovascular health through state-of-the-art patient care, cutting-edge research, education and outreach.