New approach to nursing education gives students the chance to ‘live like a nurse’

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Kathryn Lito and Kathrine McKay, in the UTHealth School of Nursing simulation lab, will graduate this month as part of the first class of the UTHealth School of Nursing Pacesetters Program.

Kathryn Lito and Kathrine McKay, in the UTHealth School of Nursing simulation lab, will graduate this month as part of the first class of the UTHealth School of Nursing Pacesetters Program.

HOUSTON – (Dec. 16, 2011) – Since they were pre-teens, Kathrine McKay and Kathryn Lito had aspirations of pursuing a nursing career. So when they applied to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing, they decided to take an accelerated approach to their education with the new Pacesetters program.

A redesigning of the four-semester B.S.N. curriculum, the Pacesetters track gives students their in-classroom course work, plus an opportunity to work a full-time clinical rotation schedule over 16 weeks during their final semester of school. To be admitted into the program, applicants must complete 60 hours of prerequisite course work.

McKay and Lito were among 50 B.S.N. students accepted into the first group of Pacesetters for fall 2010 admission.

This new concept was developed by a task force chaired by UTHealth School of Nursing Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Cathy Rozmus, D.S.N., R.N. "Our goal was to create an educational experience that will get the student living the life of a nurse while still in nursing school and help develop the strong critical thinking skills demanded by a clinical workplace," said Rozmus.

Now, in their final semester of the program, the students feel the Pacesetters option has given them an enhanced perspective of what it takes to work as a full-time nurse after they graduate this month. “I selected the Pacesetters program because when it was presented to us, the more focused and steady route seemed to fit my work habits and personality a lot better,” said McKay.

Rozmus hopes the more intense clinical experience in the Pacesetters track also helps produce a more “job-ready” B.S.N. graduate.

“The program has given me a better idea of what direction in nursing I want to take,” said Lito. “The opportunity to experience the pace of the different units on a consistent basis has helped me.”

Thanks to clinical partners such as the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, McKay, Lito and their classmates have experienced 12-hour work shifts, experienced continuity of care with patients and become acquainted with the hospital’s system of care. In addition, students have had the opportunity to work in a variety of nursing settings, such as in local schools and community sites, and obstetric, acute and pediatric nursing units.

In a typical nursing school curriculum, the student might not get continuity-of-care experience and receive only brief, limited contact with each hospital’s system of care, location of supplies and charting methods. 

“I’ve been able to connect with patients and follow them throughout the course of their treatment because we work three rotation shifts in a week,” said Lito. “Whereas the traditional student may not have the opportunity to see the same patient each shift of their rotation since it may be on a weekly basis.”

In addition, clinical preceptors within each unit serve as mentors who are able to address concerns or questions students may have during their shift. “Our preceptors have been very valuable to the experience because we get to observe them working, as well as get feedback on what we are doing,” said McKay. “The program really fosters a mentorship environment.”

Rozmus, along with Stephanie Meyers, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Pacesetters program, are observing and assessing the Pacesetters students to compare the new approach to the traditional track. Thus far, students are pleased with the route they selected and feel prepared.

“We have noticed that Pacesetters students have been very supportive of each other and want everyone to be successful,” said Meyers. She and Rozmus will continue to track the students after graduation to assess their competency, both from their perspective and from evaluations by the managers/preceptors.

“The Pacesetters program is a win-win for everybody and, potentially, a national model for new educational approaches to addressing the nationwide nursing shortage,” said UTHealth School of Nursing Dean Patricia L. Starck, D.S.N., R.N.

For more information about the Pacesetters program, visit the School of Nursing or e-mail soninfo@uth.tmc.edu.

Jade Waddy
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030