Villanova Nursing to lead integration of disability content in NP curriculum

Villanova, PA, October 2, 2010 — Nursing care of people with disabilities will improve in the future thanks to efforts stemming from a team at Villanova University College of Nursing, led by Elizabeth Blunt, Ph.D., R.N., APN, BC, assistant professor and coordinator of the nurse practitioner programs, and Suzanne Smeltzer, Ed.D., R.N., FAAN, professor and director of the College’s Center for Nursing Research. The College has received a three-year grant from the Advanced Education Nursing Program of the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its project Preparing Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to Care for Patients with Disabilities: Integration of Content into the Nurse Practitioner Curriculum. The purpose of this project is to improve the nursing care of a much underserved group in the United States: people with disabilities.

"Disability affects one in every fourth or fifth person in the U.S. This number is expected to increase because of the aging of the population, survival of many children with developmental disabilities and childhood illnesses well into adulthood, improved management of chronic illnesses and trauma, and adoption of healthy lifestyles by many,” notes Dr. Blunt, adding “Although nurse practitioners provide excellent primary care, many nurse practitioners are not as well prepared to work effectively with patients with disabilities as we would like.”

During the project, nurse practitioner teaching strategies will be identified and tested at Villanova’s College of Nursing and then shared nationally. Dr. Blunt, who maintains a clinical practice as a family nurse practitioner, describes some of the strategies, “We will be integrating individuals with disabilities in our classrooms and simulation labs to provide the same educational experiences for caring for individuals with disabilities as we do for all individuals. Additionally, when the grant project is fully implemented, nurse practitioner students in all tracks --adult, pediatrics, family--at Villanova University will complete a clinical practicum experience in a setting with individuals with disabilities." Currently, most NP programs do not include this sort of component in their curriculum.

“We hope to change the curricula of nurse practitioner programs across the country to include content related to disability so that future nurse practitioners are able to provide quality care to this population,” explains Dr. Smeltzer. She had led the College’s research and health promotion for people with disabilities through its Health Promotion for Women with Disabilities Project funded by a grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. Dr. Smeltzer, an internationally known scholar, researcher, educator and author, has served on disabilities-related committees and advisory groups and much of her research has addressed health issues of people with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities.

Why is this such a critical topic? There is strong empirical evidence that individuals with disabilities receive health care less often and are offered less effective and less aggressive treatment than their non-disabled counterparts. Based on the continuing health care disparities that affect people with disabilities, in 2005 the U.S. Surgeon General issued a Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities for measures to ensure accessible, comprehensive health care for all persons with disabilities so that they are able to have full, engaged and productive lives in their own communities. The Call to Action specifically identified the need for health profession education programs, including medicine and nursing, to teach students about disability.