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UTHealth School of Nursing to begin new accelerated FNP-DNP program

Philanthropic gift supports launch of new program

HOUSTON – (July 16, 2012) – A combined philanthropic gift of $950,000 will allow The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing to launch a new accelerated graduate-level program to prepare much-needed primary care providers to ultimately improve the overall health of Houston-area residents.

The goal of the program is to provide financial support needed to encourage more nursing students to complete the Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) program with a focus on becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP). The program will begin in the fall.

“Now that it is fully funded, the new program will efficiently produce 14 highly qualified FNPs, each of whom will improve the availability of health care in our community,” said Patricia L. Starck, D.S.N., R.N., dean of the UTHealth School of Nursing. “Texas is third from the bottom in the United States for having enough primary care providers to adequately meet the ratio of expected new patients receiving health coverage in 2014.”

The John S. Dunn Research Foundation pledged to donate $350,000 if the nursing school raised $300,000.

Both the Cullen Trust for Health Care ($300,000) and the John P. McGovern Foundation ($150,000) helped with the matching funds.

The Dunn Foundation, seeing the success of UTHealth’s fundraising, agreed to match the additional funds of $150,000 in excess of the initial challenge, which brings the total donations to $950,000.

“At a time when major healthcare conversations are taking place, and with the current shortage of primary care providers, patients will turn to nurse practitioners for their family’s primary health care,” said Beth Robertson, chair of the board of trustees at the Cullen Trust for Health Care. “We at the Cullen Trust for Health Care are proud to support this much-needed program within our community.”

“Texas does not have an adequate number of healthcare professionals, and this is a growing problem for our country,” said J. Dickson Rogers, president of the Dunn Foundation. “Training family nurse practitioners is a viable and cost-saving method to help alleviate this issue. The John S. Dunn Foundation through its Medical Education Mission is, and has been, pleased with the results produced by the UTHealth School of Nursing.”

“The generosity of our donors will let us recruit a cohort of 14 qualified students instead of the initial proposal of 10 for fall 2012,” said Starck.  “We believe this accelerated FNP-DNP Program can be used as a model all over the state.”

To encourage nursing students to earn advanced degrees in a shorter time and at a younger age, the UTHealth School of Nursing will provide full scholarships (tuition and fees) to 14 candidates entering the M.S.N. program and then the D.N.P. program with the goal of becoming family nurse practitioners. In addition to these scholarships, the grant funding will provide stipends of $32,000 each to offset the living expenses incurred while the master’s degree students are enrolled full time.

The M.S.N. curriculum includes 41 total credits over 16 months, while completion of the D.N.P. program requires an additional 43 credits (36 months at part-time study).

On average, it takes nine years – four undergraduate and five at the graduate level – to train a family nurse practitioner with the D.N.P. degree.

“We hope to accelerate these graduate studies to facilitate production of these important healthcare providers and significantly increase the number of DNP graduates with an FNP focus,” said Joanne V. Hickey, Ph.D., R.N., who will oversee the new FNP-DNP Program. “We are very excited about this fabulous opportunity to contribute to the healthcare needs of the state for primary care providers.” Hickey is the Patricia L. Starck/PARTNERS Endowed Professor in Nursing and a professor of family health at the UTHealth School of Nursing.

Two faculty members in the UTHealth School of Nursing’s Department of Family Health – Eileen R. Giardino, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor of nursing and Robert G. Hanks, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor of nursing – will be co-directors of the new FNP program.

Family nurse practitioners are trained to promote health and prevent disease through comprehensive health care and education.  More and more physician practices are incorporating nurse practitioners to expand the number of patients that can be cared for. Nurse practitioners are also going to places where there is not a physician on-site, but accessible for consultation and referral. Four decades of research validate that advanced practice nurse outcomes are comparable to those of primary care physicians, and that patients are satisfied with this care.

“By a modest estimate, a family nurse practitioner touches the lives of at least 20 to 25 patients a day – so, over the course of a career, these philanthropically supported students will influence the health and well-being of thousands of people a year,” said Starck, who also is the John P. McGovern Distinguished Professor of Nursing.  “The impact on health care in our community and on the looming crisis in healthcare access would be very significant.”

The Cullen Trust for Health Care also has supported the nursing school’s innovative Accelerated Ph.D. Program, which is creating more faculty-level nurses and thus helping to increase nursing school enrollment and ultimately the number of nurses working in the community.  In 2010, School of Nursing student and graduate assistant Christina Nunez, M.S.N., R.N., was named the Cullen Trust for Health Care Scholar, and she continues to work towards her Ph.D. and the stipulated three years of service as a faculty member at a nursing school in the Texas Gulf Coast region.

The UTHealth School of Nursing is the highest ranked nursing graduate school in Texas and among the Top Five Percent nationwide, according to the latest edition of the influential America's Best Graduate Schools guide. The school produces about 180 new nurses and 140 nurses with graduate degrees each year. For more information or to apply, visit:

- Written by David R. Bates, Communications Director, UTHealth School of Nursing


Jade Waddy
Media Contact: 713-500-3030