School of Nursing and Health Professions

Trinity’s School of Nursing and Health Professions: Growing and Expanding


Dr. Nancie Bruce and Dr. Mary Romanello

Dr. Nancie Bruce (left) and Dr. Mary Romanello

When Trinity launched its nursing program in 2006, expectations were high that nursing would attract significant enrollment. Performance has surpassed those expectations: 140 students are enrolled in the nursing program and more than 235 students currently enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Professional Studies are planning to pursue a nursing degree at Trinity. In fall 2010, Trinity formally established the coeducational School of Nursing and Health Professions to support the rapid growth of the nursing program and the expansion of new degree programs in other health fields. Dr. Mary Romanello, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions, and Dr. Nancie Bruce, director of the nursing program, talk about trends in health care and health care education and the future of Trinity’s programs.

Q: What are some of the recent changes in the education and training of nurses?
A: Dr. Nancie Bruce:
Within our profession there has become an increased demand for baccalaureate-prepared nurses with skills in critical thinking, health promotion and evidence-based practice across a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings. Hospitals are requiring more highly trained nurses with specialties in critical care, cardiac, neonatal, emergency and surgical nursing as the acuity level of patients in hospitals is now much higher. Also, with our aging population, more nurses are needed with a knowledge of gerontology and long-term care.

Some of the new concepts that we are teaching now in nursing schools are electronic medical records, advanced critical care, emergency technical skills and patient confidentiality and safety. We also now have a more culturally diverse patient population with a need for our students to learn about diversity and complementary and alternative methods of healing. Most hospitals have “caring” as their conceptual framework and consider that nursing is a discipline of knowledge and a field of professional practice grounded in caring. A professional caring nurse demonstrates qualities of altruism, autonomy, human dignity, integrity and social justice, and these values are very important to our profession.

We have integrated knowledge of all of these concepts into our nursing curriculum at Trinity. We have five new curricular threads, which are concepts that we integrate into each course. They are: caring, evidence-based practice, critical thinking, diversity, information technology systems, and safe and competent patient care.

Q: There has been an expansion of health profession specialties in recent years. How is that improving patient health care?
A: Dr. Mary Romanello:
Health care evolved from a physician focused model to an interdisciplinary team model with practitioners such as nurses and physical, occupational and speech therapists working with physicians to meet the patients’ needs. In the last 25 years, direct access to health care practitioners other than physicians occurred, decreasing the number of practitioners a patient must see before receiving the care needed, yet a process necessitating health care practitioners working together to achieve the best patient outcome. The interdisciplinary team model values the patient holistically and seeks to provide the patient with the best quality of life possible.

Given the expansion of scientific knowledge and the evolution of society’s health care demands, health care has become more specialized for physicians and other health care practitioners as the knowledge and skills required for effective practice increased. To be a pharmacist, physical therapist, occupational therapist or advanced practice nurse, one must acquire a graduate degree for entry-level practice.

Q: What are the skills and characteristics that effective health care professionals should possess today?
A: Romanello:
They need the ability to apply evidence-based practice, see the patient holistically, provide culturally competent care, understand the roles of various health care providers and effectively communicate succinctly and accurately. They also need to work more collaboratively with each other. With each health care professional recognizing the strengths and skills their colleagues bring to the team, we are seeing greater collaboration among health care professionals in order to achieve the best outcome for their patients.

Q: What makes the Trinity experience in the School of Nursing and Health Professions distinctive?
A: Bruce:
We recognize society’s need for more qualified nurses and are a university committed to providing an opportunity for education to students who come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. Also, over the last three years the faculty of our nursing program have evaluated and searched for innovative ways to improve and evaluate our curriculum and methods and quality of instruction. We do believe that as the quality and access of our educational offerings here at Trinity have improved, our reputation has been enhanced, hence the popularity and growth in our nursing program.

A: Romanello: Trinity’s School of Nursing and Health Professions emphasizes educating culturally competent health care practitioners who value patient care delivery resulting from and influenced by a patient-centered approach that incorporates technology and evidence-based practice to generate effective patient care outcomes. The liberal arts core provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to think critically about how societal and professional conditions can enhance or impede the quality of care delivered, thus affecting patient outcomes.

Q: Enrollment in Trinity’s School of Nursing and Health Professions has grown quickly. What are some of the factors in the success of this new school?
A: Bruce:
From fall 2009 to spring 2011, Trinity’s nursing program experienced a growth in enrollment of more than 50 percent. Factors that have contributed to the growth of Trinity’s nursing program include: the small size of our classes; our commitment to the education of women and the promotion of women’s leadership; our academic support services and attention to individualized learning needs; our offerings of daytime, evening and weekend classes; and Trinity’s reputation for sustaining equitable access to education while providing excellence in academics. Trinity has a reputation as a university that meets the needs of an underserved, culturally and economically diverse student population while maintaining its historical distinction for academic excellence.

A: Romanello: The School of Nursing and Health Professions’ enrollment growth resulted in multiple factors that span across Trinity as well as the local community. A great need for credentialed health care professionals exists. Trinity is responding to local needs in developing its health professions programs, partnering with local health care providers such as National Rehabilitation Hospital and Washington Hospital Center. These partnerships assist current employees to advance their careers such as through our RN-to-BSN degree program while encouraging others to pursue pre-licensure education.

Beyond community needs, prospective and current students repeatedly emphasize Trinity’s reputation for a quality education. They enjoy the campus environment, small classes and faculty mentoring.

Q: What are the future challenges facing nurses and other health professionals? How will Trinity address those challenges?
A: Romanello:
Multiple factors will impact health care education and practice. Aging practitioners and higher education faculty shortages present staffing challenges for meeting demands to educate the quality and quantity of health care providers needed for the aging U.S. population. At the same time, costs of health care and higher education are worrisome, all impacting prospective students’ ability to pursue undergraduate and in many cases graduate health care education.

While our aging population presents challenges for long-term care and maintaining safe, independent living as long as possible, concerns abound regarding obesity and mental health problems that plague our youth. Trinity’s health care students combine their liberal arts and professional education to address these issues focusing on prevention initiatives, direct care and education. Trinity’s School of Nursing and Health Professions is teaching students to use the best available evidence in determining patient care options. We are focusing on education that addresses prevention and patient awareness.

Q: What new degrees and programs do you envision for Trinity’s School of Nursing and Health Professions?
A: Romanello:
We recognize the importance of meeting community health care needs which require varying degrees of education. While our nursing program addresses the current and expected nursing shortage, we are committed to educating health care professionals capable of meeting societal demands. In fall 2011 we will offer an undergraduate exercise science degree. These graduates will contribute to wellness initiatives that enhance quality of life while having the option to pursue graduate education in exercise science research and education or the rehabilitative sciences such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or athletic training.

In fall 2012 we expect to launch an occupational therapy assistant program in response to the local community’s need for certified occupational therapy assistants. We will continue to focus on occupational therapy in 2013 while considering health care trends in technology, diagnosis and treatment.