The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing has received grants totaling $842,000 from the St. David's Foundation to expand its nurse practitioner program and provide much needed primary care support.
The foundation is giving $407,230 to the school for its Family Nurse Practitioner Program and $435,130 for its Family Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program. Both are three-year grants, which will enable the school to graduate more nurse practitioners in these specialty master's degree areas, recruit additional faculty and provide scholarships.
"We are very pleased to partner with the St. David's Foundation in this important endeavor to increase the health care workforce for central Texas," said Dr. Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing. "The foundation has been a generous supporter of the School of Nursing's Family Wellness Center, Children's Wellness Center and other clinical programs since 1995."
A nurse practitioner has completed extensive additional education and training and is able to give physical exams, order and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medication. The university has been preparing nurse practitioners since 1993.
"The grants from the St. David's Foundation allow us to meet a very important need in the community by increasing the availability of advanced practice nurses in primary care," said Dr. Diane Tyler, professor of clinical nursing and director of the school's Nurse Practitioner Program. "It is estimated than more than five million Texans are without primary care providers, including residents who live in Travis and surrounding counties."
The Family Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program is the newest advanced practice program offered by the school. Students mirror the curriculum of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program through the first year and then separate into more specialized content and material. The summer and second year of the program consists of psychiatric-mental health clinical course work, including 705 clinical placement hours.
The first six students will complete the extensive program in May.
In addition to primary care shortages, there also is a critical need for more mental health practitioners in Central Texas and throughout the state. As of 2008, 72 percent of Texas counties had been designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as "Health Professional Shortage Areas" for mental health purposes. Based on census data, about 3.1 million adults in Texas have a mental disorder.
Individuals with severe mental illness have a shortened life expectancy and significant mental illness often is linked to obesity, smoking and substance abuse.
The school's two wellness centers offer comprehensive health care for low-income, uninsured residents of Austin and Travis County and also serve as teaching facilities for nurse practitioner and public health nursing students.
"As a result of the St. David's Foundation's new funding, the university nursing program will graduate 24 additional new nurse practitioners to support the growing need for health care providers in the Central Texas area," said Earl Maxwell, chief executive officer of St. David's Foundation. "We are delighted to be part of this important effort."