By Kerria Weaver
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke will offer its first doctoral degree program starting next year.
The program – doctor of nursing practice with a focus on population health – will be the first of its kind within the 17-campus UNC system and in the Southeast, the university said in an announcement Friday.
Dr. Eva Skuka, dean of the College of Health Sciences at UNC Pembroke, said in the university’s news release that the new program will help improve residents’ health across North Carolina.
“We must expand our capacity to meet the current and future needs of the nursing profession and the healthcare system,” Skuka said in the release, adding that managing chronic diseases is more complex than ever.
“These complexities require nurses to have the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to support safe transitions, minimize fragmentation of care and improve health care outcomes,” Skuka said.
Health officials say Robeson County, home to UNC Pembroke, and surrounding counties in southeastern North Carolina need more health professionals. It can be tough to attract doctors and nurses to the rural region, as they can typically make more money in the state’s largest cities.
The new program will help “assure a workforce that meets the cultural, economic, educational and health needs of the region,” Interim Provost Cherry Beasley told the Border Belt Independent in an email.
“We know that students who are educated in the state will more likely continue to live not only in North Carolina but in the similar type of community in which they were educated,” Beasley wrote.
Almost 50% of UNC Pembroke students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing work in rural communities, Dr. Erin Fraher, director of the Carolina Health Workforce Research Center at the Cecil G. Sheps Center in Chapel Hill, told Higher Education Works in 2021.
The closest competitor, Fraher said, was Fayetteville State University, which placed about 26% of nursing graduates in rural settings.
“Significant” shortages are expected in the nursing industry by 2033, according to UNC Pembroke. Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the university said the “need for advanced practice nurses is expected to grow by 45% by 2029.”
Those who earn a doctoral degree in nursing practice can choose from several career paths, including health care lobbying and clinical research. They can also work as nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists.
With a focus on population health, UNC Pembroke says its degree program will identify “barriers to effective healthcare delivery at the macrosystem level.”
Word is already getting around about the new program, which will admit its first students in the spring 2024 semester, Beasley said.
“There has been excitement about the program from nurses who are interested, health care agencies, and health education and healthcare workforce agencies,” Beasley told the BBI.