Nurse practitioner program prepares students for the region

In response to a growing need for health care professionals in the Western North Carolina mountains, Western Carolina University in 1999 launched a new master’s degree program in nursing that emphasizes community and rural health issues.

The program, which provides training in the area of family nurse practitioner, prepares nurses who will serve as the primary providers of health care, especially in Western North Carolina.

Since its inception, the program has produced approximately 50 graduates, many of whom are now working in the region. The graduates also have done well on national certification exams, with the most recent graduating class finishing with a 91 percent pass rate, said Vincent Hall, head of the nursing department. “Students have had very good success rates on their national certification exams,” Hall said. “Our FNP graduates are prepared to deliver primary care in rural and underserved areas, and they are making an impact here in Western North Carolina.”

Such is true for Janet James, a member of the first graduating class in 2002. James practices one to two days a week at the Swain and Jackson county health departments, and then serves as an assistant professor of the program, allowing her to share her real-world knowledge with the program’s students.

Although Western’s family nurse practitioner program is one of several in the state, it offers distinctive opportunities to its students, James said. “Western’s FNP program is unique in that we have tailored it to meet the needs of adult learners,” she said. “Most of our students have families and jobs, and we have been able to combine these lifestyles with an opportunity for a graduate-level education.”

James also said the program requires more “hands-on” experience than several other programs. “This is a further measure of ensuring that we are prepared,” said Stirling Barlow, a North Carolina Master’s Nurse Scholar from Arden who is currently enrolled in the program. “The faculty try to make sure that we are going to succeed in the classroom and the clinical setting. They are interested in turning out competent practitioners,” Barlow said.

For more information about Western’s nursing programs, contact Hall at (828) 227-7467.