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"Most people think of nurses as people who work in hospitals, who do treatments and dispense medications. They expect nurses to be present for major life events, like birth and death, but they don't tend to see nurses in major leadership positions," says Susan Speraw, associate professor of UT's College of Nursing.
On the other hand, Speraw says, nurses are trained to take care of the whole person—body, mind, and soul—and they are trained communicators, able to talk to doctors, specialists, other nurses, and patients of all ages. "If you were to write a job description for the perfect person to lead a disaster response, the person you would be writing a job description for is a nurse."
UT's Homeland Security Nursing program, established in 2005 as the first of its kind with a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, trains nursing leaders to meet the shifting, turbulent, and complex healthcare needs of people affected by disasters like terrorist attacks and hurricanes.
"We take an all-hazards approach, organized to teach students about every kind of potential threat to security," Speraw says. "We go into ethics, international relations, the economics of disaster, hazardous materials, weather, floods, famine, genocide, international human rights, and how to set up shelters for masses of people. Basically we take nurses who are already expert clinicians and train them in these other skills."
High-level emergency management people often come from a financial background. "But these managers are not specially trained to deal with the physiological response to shock," Speraw says. "It's more about what people really need to survive."
Roberta Lavin, a UT alumna and a national expert in emergency response, calls the university's program "a service to the nation."
"Most hospitals have a plan to deal with ten victims, or even 100 injured people in an emergency," points out Lavin, now director of the U.S. Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response. "But what about an incident when you have to handle 10,000 people? How are you going to do that?"
For the leadership of the College of Nursing, the answer to that question lies in the inherent sensibilities and capabilities of nurses, and in the strength and energy of an inspired and visionary program of learning.
For more information about the UT College of Nursing, visit the links below: