Alexa Stuifbergen

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Alexa Stuifbergen | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with the deans of the University’s 18 schools and colleges. It has been condensed from its original form to fit space requirements.


The Daily Texan: You were appointed as dean in 2010. Since then, what would you say are the biggest projects you’ve undertaken and biggest successes you’ve had?


Alexa Stuifbergen: We’ve revised our strategic plan and taken a close look at where we were in comparison with other schools. We’ve re-emphasized our focus … on producing leaders. Many other schools produce more nurses than we do, and they are excellent clinical practitioners, but we really expect our graduates [at all levels] to go on to significant leadership roles. 

We have made a significant revision of our alternate-entry master’s program, which allows students with at least a bachelor’s degree in another field to come in and take the NCLEX licensing exam within, now, 12 months and then stay on and complete their master’s.

We’ve also gone this year to freshman admissions to our school. Previously, when a high school senior applied to UT and expressed interest in nursing, they were admitted, in fact, to what was called pre-nursing … They had to go through a second level of application in competition with people from other schools across the campus. So, starting with the Class of 2018, we are committed to them … They don’t have to compete with Natural Science majors.

We are also pleased to announce that the Board of Regents has approved a doctorate of nursing practice for our school, but we’re still awaiting final approval from the [Texas] Higher Education Coordinating Board.


DT: How does the nursing school prepare its students for the leadership roles you previously mentioned?


Stuifbergen: From the undergraduate to the graduate levels, our students are exposed to service and leadership opportunities. Our … students are involved in many activities through their student organizations. We have a large undergraduate nursing students’ association that’s part of the state and national levels. They often go to the state and national meetings and come home with resolutions they passed that are pretty impressive.

Our graduate students are a diverse group and are employed or have families. Their student organization is more eclectic, but they work closely with other student organizations on campus, such as Project Collaborate out of the pharmacy school.


DT: Howothe nursing school collaborate with other schools on campus?


Stuifbergen: All the health sciences these days have expectations of inter-professional competencies, so one way we encourage that is to offer at least one joint class between Nursing and other schools every semester. 

With the opening of the medical school, we’re renovating our simulation lab space, and the nursing school will be hosting the inter-professional educational activities for nursing, pharmacy and medicine. Otherwise, we have faculty who teach Signature Courses and many research collaborations with other schools.


DT: Why do you think nursing programs, like the new doctorate of nursing practice, are growing in popularity?


Stuifbergen: There’s a constant demand for healthcare professionals, and so there’s a great need. With nurse practitioners, they are becoming more and more desirable … People like to have nurse practitioners take care of them because they get a slightly different kind of care. I think people are really coming to recognize the important role that nurses play.


DT: How does the nursing school recruit male faculty and students?


Stuifbergen: That’s always a challenge in nursing. The number of male students in nursing programs around the country is pretty stable at around 5 to 10 percent. It is a greater problem in faculty recruitment, partly because that [percentage] is a small number to recruit from, and many of them are not choosing to go into nursing education. So we actively recruit to enhance the diversity of our faculty at all times because we think it’s important for our students to have faculty that reflect the diversity of our student body, which is getting much better. Another program that has been getting better at recruiting men is our alternate-entry master’s program, because we do get men from other professions. 

Last year, the president of our undergraduate students’ association was male, and he did a great recruiting video that is going out to high schools around Central Texas. And so I think that sort of thing really helps recruit male students, too.


DT: Is there anything else you’d like students to know?


Stuifbergen: I think there are fantastic opportunities in nursing today to make a difference in all kinds of ways. It’s a very rewarding career for anyone to have. It’s extremely challenging, but it allows you the possibility to do very impactful work, to help people and to use every bit of your brain. 

The School of Nursing will launch a new research center for chronic-illness treatments after receiving a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in late September.

Researchers at the Center for Trans-Disciplinary Collaborative Research in Self-Management Science will focus on new sustainable treatments for patients facing chronic illnesses such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

According to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven out of 10 deaths are caused by chronic diseases, and more than 50 percent of Americans live with one or more chronic diseases.

According to Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing, about 80 percent of a patient’s medical treatment consists of everyday lifestyle choices. She said feasible interventions must take into consideration external factors that influence patients’ regular decisions on exercise, diet and stress-management.

“There are women with children who are trying to work full time and are managing a chronic condition that can’t add another hour and a half to their day to exercise,” Stuifbergen said. “You have to find a new way to integrate it into their lifestyle.”

Miyong Kim, director of the center, said the center plans to collaborate with community health centers, such as CommUnityCare, to better understand the needs of low-income

Kim said the new center will create a formal space for researchers of different disciplines — such as education, law, technology and business — to explore treatments tailored to the needs of underserved communities. She said trans-disciplinary treatments can address the external factors influencing patients’ health.

“We have a lot of underserved populations that are dealing with legal issues or low literacy,” Kim said. “It’s a really complex problem, and just one discipline is not going to work.”

As technology continues to affect more and more Americans’ lives, it can also be integrated into patients’ treatment plans, Kim said. She said center researchers will collaborate with app developers to create an app that makes health publications more accessible for patients.

“If people have a choice between reading your patient educational material or playing Angry Birds, people will choose Angry Birds,” Kim said. “Say you are someone who needs information about serving sizes and calories — then we can make that into a game.”

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

The School of Nursing received a two-year $703,000 grant from St. David’s Foundation, the University announced Tuesday.
The funding will support the UT School of Nursing Wellness Center in providing care for the uninsured, low-income community of Central Texas. The Wellness Center operates in two locations, the Children’s Wellness Clinic in Del Valle, Texas and the Family Wellness Clinic in East Austin.
“We’re delighted that St. David’s Foundation has chosen once again to support the School of Nursing,” said Alexa Stuifbergen, School of Nursing dean. “We’ve had numerous supporters . . . but our most consistent and generous has always been St. David’s Foundation.”
Stuifbergen said the center was first started 16 years ago in Del Valle when a local school nurse reached out to the nursing school because of the lack of pediatric care in the area. Since then, University students who study nursing, business, social work and pharmacy have worked with faculty members in serving the community through both clinics.
“It’s a great source of direct experience for students,” Stuifbergen said. “It’s a way that UT gives back to the community.”
Now the center has recruited more public health nurses on staff to increase outreach programs. It is also adding more specialty programs to help people manage diabetes and asthma.
“This is a continuation of a long-standing relationship that we’ve had with the UT School of Nursing,” said Earl Maxwell, CEO of St. David’s Foundation. “The [center] serves low-income people in our community, and that’s the focus of our foundation.”
Elizabeth Loika, associate professor of clinical nursing and director of the Family Wellness Center, said the center has become an integral part in the lives of many patients.
“This brings up the standard of care to where it needs to be. We’re very grateful,” Loika said.
Many patients first came as teenagers and grew up with the center. These patients, especially the geriatric population, have been receiving care for as long as ten years.
“We like to be able to provide an extended way of teaching,” Loika said. “We’re doing something that is meaningful.”

The Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare has awarded UT with a $20,000 grant that will be awarded to two doctoral nursing students, which the University will match dollar for dollar.

America has a shortage of nurse faculty, primary care and researchers, according to a report released in 2010 by the National Institute of Medicine on the current and future state of nursing in America. Anticipating this shortage, the institute has recommended that the number of nurses with a doctorate double by 2020.

Growing population rates, especially in older age ranges, have led to the heightened demand in nursing faculty in America, said Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the nursing school. According to Stuifbergen, because of better care for severe health problems, more people are surviving injuries that would have previously resulted in death.

“I think the greatest challenge that [nursing] will face is a shortage of highly-educated nurses that can serve both as nurse educators and nurse leaders in practice,” Stuifbergen said. “As our population is aging, the need for health care is increasing as well.”

The current faculty that is teaching nursing students is retiring, adding to the shortage, said nursing school spokeswoman Kathryn Wiley.

“It’s because a lot of people are retiring at the average age of about 67, that need to be replaced and,” Wiley said.

The Jonas Scholars Program is important because going to school along with supporting a family and working causes problems for many students interested in pursuing graduate-level nursing, said Linda Yoder, a mentor for doctoral student Eduardo Chavez, last year’s scholarship recipient.

“When you have a family, it’s expensive to go to school and pay to maintain a life,” Yoder said. “If people are working, you’re looking at people going part time and [earning a doctorate degree] in six to seven years.”

The Jonas Scholars Program chose Chavez for the scholarship last year because of the research he is doing for his doctoral dissertation on the leadership of bedside nurses, Yoder said.

According to Yoder, in order to solve the many issues that affect the delivery of care, there needs to be more research done by nursing students who choose to further their education. Honors undergraduate nursing students have opportunities to work with current doctoral students who are researching patient and health care industry problems.

“[Undergraduates] ask a lot of good questions,” Yoder said. “Our honors students have a great time working with faculty doing research... A couple of our students wrote papers last year that got published.”

Motivation for many of the doctoral students lies in doing research to improve nursing, Yoder said.

“I think what motivates people to get a Ph.D is they’re passionate about nursing, but they’re also passionate about contributing to the knowledge and science behind nursing, and you do that with research,” Yoder said.