Sacred Heart announces new School of Nursing

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Clinical Assistant Professor Kim Foito, center, works with students Lauren Sudbey and Lauren Hall in the nursing lab.

Sacred Heart University will expand its long-standing and rapidly growing nursing program into a new School of Nursing  beginning with the start of the fall semester.

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Susan DeNisco

The School of Nursing, which will open with about 1,100 undergraduate and graduate nursing students, will be part of the university’s College of Health Professions, said Susan DeNisco, who has been appointed the school’s interim director. It will have 29 full-time faculty members and a support staff of 11.

About a third of the students in the as-yet-unnamed school are pursuing undergraduate degrees, while two-thirds are seeking advanced degrees and doctorates, DeNisco said. About half of the 1,100 students are online students.

The university has enlisted the aid of an academic search firm to help it conduct a nationwide search for a permanent director of the new school. DeNisco, who has served the nursing department in several different capacities over the past 15 years, said she is a candidate for the permanent position.

The decision to transition the university’s Department of Nursing into a School of Nursing reflects the program’s steady growth over the past 33 years, said Patricia Walker, dean of the College of Health Professions.

She called the transition a “natural next step” in the development of the nursing department, which has reached a “critical mass” and now has the ability to stand on its own as a separate school.

“Due to our rapid growth, the Department of Nursing has become an increasingly more difficult and complex operation to administer,” said Laura Niesen de Abruna, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “We’ve reached the point where it just makes better logistic sense, particularly from an administrative point of view, to expand the nursing program into a separate school.”

As an example of its growth, Niesen de Abruna said 150 freshmen are scheduled to enter the nursing program this fall, a 50% increase from the 100 freshmen who entered the program in the fall of 2012.

Creating a separate and distinct School of Nursing within the College of Health Professions will also increase the program’s exposure and recognition, both on the regional and national levels, DeNisco said.

“We think we have a world-class nursing program, and becoming a School of Nursing will help set us apart and increase our visibility and presence,” she said. “Our nursing faculty members are known for their clinical expertise, initiatives in global health and use of state-of-the-art technology and are excited about the future possibilities that the school designation will bring.”

The transition from nursing department to nursing school also has a competitive component to it in that it will help the university compete against nursing schools both in and out of Connecticut not only for the best undergraduate nursing students, but also for the most talented doctoral students and doctoral-level faculty members.

The university’s nursing program was launched in 1980 as an RN to BSN program in which registered nurses with nursing diplomas could receive their bachelor’s degree. Today, it offers a wide range of academic programs, including programs for pre-nursing students, first professional degree students, a campus-based family nurse practitioner program, a doctorate of nursing practice, a nursing program designed specifically for on-site students and several programs for online students, including RN to BSN, RN to MSN and MSN programs in three different tracks — patient care services administration, clinical nurse leader and nurse educator.

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