TTU School of Nursing leading the way in addressing rural health issues

Tennessee Tech University’s School of Nursing is using a combination of teamwork and technology to take the lead in developing its expertise about rural health issues.

In the nation’s first ever consortium model, the university has teamed up with its five other Tennessee Board of Regents counterparts to offer an online nursing master’s option through the Regents Online Degree Program — and TTU will be developing the program’s rural health curriculum.

“The TBR identified the need for a program to prepare greater numbers of nurse educators because half of the nation’s nursing faculty are expected to retire within the next five years — and it takes qualified nurse educators to produce competent, well-educated nurses,” said Marilyn Musacchio, TTU’s Dean of Nursing.

She and the other TBR nursing deans and directors were called together in March 2003 to begin exploring the possibility of an online nursing master’s degree program, and by August 2004, the program’s basic curriculum had been developed.

A total of 86 students from across the state are currently enrolled — including seven who’ve declared TTU as their degree-granting “home” institution — and the first RODP nursing master’s degrees are expected to be awarded in May 2006.

Throughout that time, TTU will continue to refine its expertise in community health nursing with a special interest in rural health and build a specialized curriculum devoted to that topic.

The opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time because TTU is in the midst of a fund raising effort to secure $21 million for a new and badly needed School of Nursing facility, the first built specifically to house the 25-year-old academic program.

Among the features of the new facility will be a $3 million Rural Health Center of Excellence, and although the center’s details — like that of the curriculum — are still being formulated, its overall purpose will be to enhance the rural population’s health through research, education and the coordination of services across the life span.

“The center’s role continues to be refined as we work with health care professionals in the region, but we certainly expect it to act as a research and resource base for health care providers in the rural communities of the Upper Cumberland and Middle Tennessee areas,” Musacchio said.

“It will focus on identifying specific health issues and needs of the rural area and coordinating health services to meet those needs through communication, tele-medicine, health education in schools and working with other community agencies,” she continued.

The new School of Nursing facility will nearly triple the number of baccalaureate nursing candidates TTU currently graduates, helping the university better respond to a national nursing shortage that could result in a million job vacancies by 2010.

“But the RODP will still be the only option for students to earn a master’s degree in nursing from TTU, so it will continue to be a valuable resource to the Upper Cumberland and Middle Tennessee regions,” Musacchio said.

Other TBR universities involved in the RODP nursing master’s degree option include Austin Peay State University, Middle Tennessee State University, East Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis.

For more information about the RODP nursing master’s degree, visit its web site at www.tn.regentsdegrees.org.

For more information about the nursing campaign, call University Development at 931/372-3055 or check out the “Giving to TTU” link on the university homepage at www.tntech.edu.