North Park University Introduces New Graduate-Level Nursing Curriculum

School of Nursing at North Park University
The University's new master-level nursing curriculum includes concentrations in leadership and management, plus family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner specialties.

Curriculum includes adult-gerontology nursing practice track, leadership training

CHICAGO (June 6, 2012) – To better equip nurses to work with an aging population and changes in the health care arena in the United States, the School of Nursing at North Park University, Chicago, will initiate a new master's level curriculum this fall. The changes are in response to new master's-level competencies approved by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which sets accreditation standards for schools of nursing. The changes will affect most students already in the master's program, as well as incoming students.

The new curriculum, which includes revised core and clinical courses, includes concentrations in leadership and management, plus family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner specialties. Other revisions include an increased emphasis on interdisciplinary and interprofessional communication and care, said Dr. Janice M. Zeller, professor of nursing and graduate program director. For example, Zeller said every student will take a course in professional communication and collaboration, focusing on group work, how to lead within a team, and how to bring up difficult and challenging topics for discussion.

Zeller explained that the focus on the adult gerontology nurse practitioner prepares graduate nurses to care for the growing number of elderly people and their diverse health care needs. "The spectrum of care has intentionally been broadened," she said. "Although nurse practitioners have been caring for older adults, now there is a need for greater emphasis because of the aging population."

Behind the nursing education changes is the 2010 report, "The Future of Nursing," issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, said Dr. Linda Duncan, professor and dean, North Park University School of Nursing. It states that nurses should practice to the fullest extent of their education and training, achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system, and be full partners with physicians and other health care professionals in redesigning the U.S. health care system. It also states that nursing education programs should prepare nurses for leadership positions in health care.

Nurse practitioners are key players in front-line, primary care in hospitals, clinics, schools, community centers, and workplaces. "What is clear is that we need, as a society, to be better poised to be able to provide primary health care to the people out there that need it, whether it's the vast increase of people who will be on the Medicare rolls or the increase in the number of underinsured," she said. Duncan added that the University's nurse practitioner curriculum is already focused on primary care.

Chicago-area health professionals say the University's new master's concentration to train nurses to work with older populations is significant. Christine Bertrand, intergenerational coordinator, Little Brothers -- Friends of the Elderly, Chicago Chapter, said North Park nursing students work with the organization's elders while elders are on vacation, visit them in their homes, or volunteer throughout the year. Students see first-hand the health-related concerns of elders, and learn how to communicate with them effectively, she said.

"North Park has realized there is a big need for gerontology classes," Bertrand said of the new curriculum. "Anyone who has the opportunity to be trained for this population will be ahead of other nursing students or professionals down the road." There are not many trained adult gerontologist nurse practitioners now, she added.

Lawndale Christian Health Center is a faith-based, federally qualified health center on Chicago’s west side which serves older adults, and patients with lower incomes and no health insurance. Lawndale has hosted North Park students in community health rotations, and University faculty have helped train Lawndale staff on changes in geriatric nursing. The University's new master's curriculum, including the adult gerontology nurse practitioner track, is an important step, said Jewel Scott, a family nurse practitioner and director of nursing, Lawndale Christian Health Center.

"If you look at the changing trends in our country, it makes sense that North Park is training nurses to be able to care for the aging population," she said. "People are living longer with more complex medication regimens, and we want nurses to be prepared to care for this population." There is also a positive career outlook for trained geriatric nurses, with more and more primary care settings developing geriatric specialties, Scott added.

A strength of the North Park University nursing program is that it "invests" in students directly through face-to-face classroom and clinical experiences. "Our job is to equip our students to rise to a level of performance that is going to be asked of them," said Duncan. "These changes are going to be exciting. Our students will help mold and guide the primary health care for the neighborhoods in which they work. Many of our graduate students live and work here on the north side of Chicago. We're really meeting the needs of the community in which we're living."

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