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New Nursing School Designs 'Intentional' Curriculum to Tackle Health Disparities

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   March 29, 2021

Program's goal is to 'make a difference in the lives of those who suffer from health inequity,' new chair says.

Shrinking health disparities for people of color and marginalized communities while educating nursing students through experiential and interprofessional learning will "set us apart from other nursing programs," says Tiffany Morris, DNP, MS Ed., MSN, RN, CNE, inaugural chair of a nursing department that debuts this fall at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.

Morris, who previously worked at North Carolina A&T State University School of Nursing as interim director, began her role March 1 as chair for the School of Health Sciences' department of nursing that begins in August with about 100 students.

Morris and Becky Neiduski, dean of the School of Health Sciences, have been "intentional" in designing the course curriculum to build "nurses of the future," they say.

"One, we're definitely in the game to combat the national nursing shortage as well as a state nursing shortage," Morris says. "And the paradigm shift in how we are to educate nurses of the future is that Elon has designed a nursing program that will address interprofessional collaboration, diversity, equity, inclusion, and then this holistic approach and critical reflection to solve global world problems."

Addressing Health Disparities

"We know that COVID-19 took the cover off of healthcare, because I think people knew it existed," Morris says, "but it has really opened our eyes to knowing what the disparities are in terms of health equity."

A 2020 study by the North Carolina Health News indicated the state is slow to eliminate inequalities in healthcare so Elon University leaders decided to take the lead on addressing those disparities, Morris says.

"We've got two courses designated to help disparities [and] health equity, and that's just on the ground level," she says.

"Not only are we going to be intentional in the classroom but also in our clinical learning experience," Morris says. "We have experiential learning opportunities, starting with the first course in nursing foundation and health assessments, where we're actually utilizing spaces in the community that typically may be viewed as areas where there's disparity and, I hate to use that word, marginalized communities, but those that typically have less access to healthcare."

Learning Through Interprofessional Education

The School of Health Sciences provides interprofessional education for students to learn collaboratively in preparation for the healthcare industry, Neiduski says.

And while the nursing department's new simulation suite center with rooms that imitate clinical learning experiences will provide state-of-the-art fundamentals of nursing, the program goes much further, Morris says.    

"Often nursing programs are, of course, emphasizing the skill—the technical skill, the tactile skill—of nursing, but our model is going to be a value-based model of healthcare, so we're going to be very agile in population-level data [and] fiscally minded," Morris says.

"If you polled any nurse now and asked, 'What did you learn about how to be fiscally responsible? Did you understand value-based care? How did you use your population data to solve problems?,' they may have been discussed and reviewed, but that's our mantra," she says. "That's going to be our charge where we actually leverage this information to optimize healthcare quality and outcomes."

Of the estimated 100 students in the first class, 50 will be in the four-year bachelor of nursing program and an additional 50 will be in the accelerated 16-month track, Morris says.

"If you really truly want to make a difference in the lives of those who suffer from health inequity," she says, "it is going to be the place to make a difference."

“Not only are we going to be intentional in the classroom but also in our clinical learning experience.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Two goals of Elon University's new nursing department are to shrink health disparities for people of color and marginalized communities and reduce the nursing shortage.

The COVID-19 pandemic was instrumental in revealing disparities in healthcare.

The nursing school is teaching the fundamentals while embracing a value-based model of healthcare.

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