UTA Opens Rural Health and Nursing Center – State of Reform

UTA Opens Rural Health and Nursing Center - State of Reform

The College of Nursing and Health Innovation (CONHI) at the University of Texas at Arlington has launched a new center to improve access to health care for rural communities in Texas.

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the Rural Health and Nursing Center is funded by a $4 million statutory appropriation from the State of Texas. The funding will support the center’s efforts to improve rural nursing education and health outcomes for rural populations.

“I am very grateful to the Legislative Assembly for its support of the University’s efforts to educate and train the next generation of rural health care providers,” said Teik C. Lim, Acting President of the UTA. “With this new center, we can dramatically expand the reach of one of the best nursing programs in the nation to improve the health of rural Texans.”

Elizabeth Merwin, the center’s executive director and dean of CONHI, hopes the center will develop and foster a model of nursing education for rural residents who want to become registered nurses and nurse practitioners. This model will support and educate these students while they reside in their home community. It will also aim to alleviate the shortage of nurses and other health care providers in an effort to support access to health care for rural Texas populations.

“With generous funding from the State of Texas, CONHI will be able to form lasting partnerships with rural communities that improve the quality of life for underserved populations in these areas,” Merwin said. “Our goal is to build strong relationships with key organizations and stakeholders within rural Texas communities to improve access to healthcare by strengthening the professional healthcare workforce.”

In its first year, the center will develop partnerships in rural communities to conduct educational needs assessments for registered nurses and nurse practitioners. Once needs are identified, the center will provide training to support current community healthcare providers and educate new incoming nurses and healthcare professionals.

“UTA has a proven track record both in Texas and across the country as a leading center of excellence for nursing education,” said Senator Kelly Hancock. “I have great confidence in the ability of the university, through its new Center for Rural Health and Nursing, to bring its nationally recognized nursing education and training programs to improve both nursing education and health outcomes in rural communities across our state.”

Aspen Drude, the center’s director, said the center aims to support existing providers and recruit young people from rural populations to become nurses in their communities.

“We want to make sure that students who attend rural high schools and community colleges have access to our programs,” Drude said. “We hope our continuing education programs will meet the needs of today’s nurses and increase opportunities for rural residents, while meeting the workforce needs of the rural community.

The center’s nursing education initiatives will be supported by Elanda Douglas, an assistant clinical professor and nurse practitioner with extensive experience as a family nurse practitioner.

“It’s very important for nursing students to understand that when working in rural communities, they need to be well balanced because they could be the only nurse in the clinic,” Douglas said. “Our rural health program will prepare students with a wide range of skills to meet the daily demands of rural care.”

According to Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention, rural Americans face many health disparities compared to their urban counterparts. They are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, respiratory disease or stroke. Factors that put them at increased risk include higher smoking rates, lower physical activity, and reduced access to health care and health insurance. Rural communities also face unique workforce challenges and, too often, shortages of health care providers.

Reshma Thomas is a first-year student in CONHI’s Master of Science in Nursing program who joined the center as a nursing assistant student. As a family nurse practitioner in training, Thomas is passionate about serving vulnerable rural populations.

“Nearly 25% of the population of Texas lives in rural communities and suffers from harmful health disparities and lack of care,” Thomas said. “Providing preventative care and raising standards of health care in these communities is essential.

More information about the center and updates can be found on its new website

This press release was provided by the University of Texas at Arlington.