NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The severe shortage of health care in Deep East Texas is being addressed through a proposed nurse practitioner graduate degree at Stephen F Austin State University.
The degree program could open the door to improved medical care in East Texas.
It's the first day of the spring semester at SFA School of Nursing, these seniors are close to becoming registered nurses. At least one has sights set on becoming a family nurse practitioner.
"We see a lot of different nurse practitioners, and they have the same respect as a doctor," said Bria Russell, an SFA nursing student.
They also have many of the same duties as doctors. Bria is planning to utilize a nurse practitioner online degree program that SFA expects to offer in 2017. Administrators see the program as an answer to a severe shortage in health care
"Ten of twelve counties in East Texas are underserved in health care," said Dr. Kim Childs, the dean of SFA's College of Sciences and Mathematics.
Childs said SFA nursing graduates want to return to East Texas, but often stay in metropolitan areas where more jobs and higher pay are available. A nurse practitioner degree may just lure them back.
"Interesting data here. One out of ten who graduate as physicians who graduate from medical school really don't go to the rural area," Childs said. "However, eighty percent, eight out of ten, who graduate in a nurse practitioner program go to the rural communities."
Does this Dallas resident see East Texas as a place to start a career?
"I wouldn't mind opening up a clinic, so I would come back if I had the better opportunities here I would come back," Russell said.
A $750,000 Temple Foundation grant will provide start-up fees for the proposed program. Other generous donors may play a role too.
With the recent passing of longtime nursing supporter Lucy DeWitt this building is also a future endeavor for the SFA nursing program. The building, located directly in front of the DeWitt School of Nursing, is willed to SFA.
Some in the medical community see the facility as a future clinic, but SFA respectfully waits for the right time and place to discuss its use.
"And at that time we will make the decisions with the appropriate people at the table as to what we do with the building," Childs said.
The generous support allows the SFA nursing program to offer exciting opportunities for its students and improve the well-being of East Texans.
The proposed nurse practitioner program needs SFA Regents approval, in addition to approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Board of Nursing. A curriculum is already in place.