UNMC College of Nursing graduates 'bumper crop' of Ph.D. graduates

Nurses with doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees are needed to teach nursing students and conduct research.

Nurse faculty members are in high demand. With more than 3.1 million registered nurses nationwide -- the nation's largest health care profession -- the demand for those who teach nursing exceeds the supply.

The shortage of faculty has a significant impact on the ability of nursing schools to educate sufficient numbers of nurses. Nurses with doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees are needed to teach nursing students and conduct research to advance the science of nursing to improve care for patients.

Recently, the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing, which offers the only Ph.D. in nursing in the state, graduated a ‘bumper crop’ of four Ph.D. nursing graduates. Four doesn’t seem like a lot, but typically just one to two Ph.D. students graduate a semester.

“Each new graduate will be a role model for nursing,” said Ann Berger, Ph.D., director of the college’s doctoral program and Dorothy Hodges Olson Chair in Nursing. “It’s our responsibility to educate nurses who can be leaders in transforming health care. That also means discovering better ways to care for Nebraskans and their families.”

About two years ago, the college opened its new Center for Nursing Science building to address the nursing shortage by boosting the number of nurse faculty.

Tiffany Moore, Ph.D., of Omaha, is one of the four graduates who recently was hired as an assistant professor with the college’s Families & Health Systems Department. She spent 10 years as a nurse working in the neonatal intensive care unit and as a flight nurse. Though she said it was hard to leave the bedside, the babies and parents, the 12-hour days and nights didn’t work too well after her first baby, so she went back to school to teach nursing.

As a faculty member, she will have an impact on many patients -- through her students. Faculty often talk about some of the rewards of the job, like the “aha moment” – the moment when students understand what they’re learning or “get it.”

Dr. Moore said she’s a little nervous.

“It’s a lot of responsibility. I want students to have the best experience,” Dr. Moore said. “I’m passionate about showing, modeling and encouraging passion in future nurses. Nurses have a hand in the most difficult times in peoples’ lives. I want to encourage my students to step back and look at the whole picture…and to do the little things for people like getting a glass of water that remind us why we’re in nursing.”

As she progressed in her studies, she developed a passion for research. It was natural since she said over the 10 years working at the bedside she thought about a lot of questions.

“As nurses, we see a lot of phenomena we can’t explain. We learn and apply things that are beneficial but aren’t proven,” Dr. Moore said.

Now, as a new faculty member, Dr. Moore will try to get answers to some of those questions.

In conducting research for her dissertation, she found that levels of cortisol and oxidative stress in the cord blood of infants born 32 weeks or earlier may be associated with feeding problems during the first week of life. Feeding is a common problem with neonates since the placenta no longer is providing nutrients to their immature bodies.

“I would like to improve neonatal outcomes by developing a screening test that would predict which infants might develop feeding problems,” Dr. Moore said.

Though it takes time to get the discoveries into clinical practice to benefit patients, Dr. Berger said research is critical to saving and improving lives.

“Years ago, babies less than 30 weeks old didn’t live,” Dr. Berger said. “Now we have babies surviving at 24 weeks old. It’s all about discovering new and better ways.”

The three other summer graduates are: Okjae Lee of Princeton, N.J., Nadin Abdel Razeq of Jordan and Lynn Macken of Gering, Neb. Nine new students will start the Ph.D. program in 2013 -- four are enrolled in the bachelor in nursing to Ph.D. program and five in the master’s in nursing to Ph.D. program. The program is available online as well.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.



Vicky Cerino
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-5190