It’s official: UST nursing program receives final approval

December 6, 2011

HOUSTON — Claudia Murphy knew she wanted to go into the medical field when she enrolled at the University of St. Thomas two years ago to study biology, but she wasn’t sure in what area. Now, thanks to the addition of a new program, Murphy knows exactly where she’s headed.

Murphy, 20, was among the first group of students to enroll in the pre-nursing course this fall, in preparation to enter the newly minted nursing program that will open in June.

“The timing for me was perfect,” Murphy said. “I’d been looking into all sorts of professions. What made me decide on nursing were all the opportunities it offers for growth and advancement, and St. Thomas can provide the training.”

The university received approval from the Texas Board of Nursing to offer a Bachelor of Science in nursing and recently secured accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. 

“It’s really gratifying,” said Dr. Poldi Tschirch (pronounced church), Director of Nursing Program Development for the university. “We are excited now that we can move forward to implement the program and admit students.”

It has been 25 years since the university closed its nursing school due to financial constraints, but there have been rumblings ever since about it one day reopening. In 2006, the university started to explore the possibility of opening a nursing school to not only meet the needs of the community, but also to provide the only Catholic nursing program in the area. The closest one is in San Antonio at the University of the Incarnate Word.

“I believe one of the things that’s distinctive about our program is its holistic framework — how nurses support the healing of body, mind and spirit,” said Tschirch. “Not only is it a professional discipline, but it’s also very explicitly about the fact that it’s a call to service.”

Tschirch, who was hired to develop the curriculum and infrastructure and secure accreditation, said they plan to enroll about 40 students at first and then expand the program, as well as develop a graduate program.

The program has garnered wide support inside and outside the university. The goal to raise $2 million for an endowed chair in nursing in honor of the late Sister Mary Martina Casey, CCVI, the former head of the School of Nursing, is more than half way met.

“I can’t tell you how much enthusiasm there has been for it,” university President Dr. Robert Ivany said. “People from all faiths and backgrounds have responded.”

Ivany said in just one year they raised almost $14 million, to go toward program development, operating expenses, endowed faculty chairs and a state-of-the-art Clinical Simulation Center.

In addition, a capital campaign is under way to build a Center for Science and Health Professions to house the nursing school.

As well as core academic classes, the program encompasses theological reflection in a partnership with St. Mary’s Seminary and clinical training at the Harris County Hospital District, St. Joseph Medical Center, San Jose Clinic and other health care organizations. 

“I have high hopes for the program,” Murphy said. “If it’s like any of (the university’s) other programs, I know they will excel.” †