UTEP Celebrates Graduate Fellows in Nursing

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

For The University of Texas at El Paso, building strong relationships with community health partners like the Paso del Norte Health Foundation is vital to meeting the health care needs of the region’s medically underserved population. 

Examples of that successful partnership are eight newly minted Paso del Norte Health Foundation Fellows in Nursing that the UTEP School of Nursing selected from the Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degree program to receive the first-time honor.UTEP celebrated the first group of Paso del Norte Health Foundation Fellows in Nursing on Jan. 18. From left, the fellows are Laura Rodriguez, Hector R. Morales, UTEP President Diana Natalicio, Paso del Norte Health Foundation Board Chair Sandra Sánchez Almanzán, Carmen Ramirez, Joyce Meserve, Kim Miller, Christina Paz, School of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez and Diana Portillo. (Not pictured: Hector Rodriguez). Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News ServiceUTEP celebrated the first group of Paso del Norte Health Foundation Fellows in Nursing on Jan. 18. From left, the fellows are Laura Rodriguez, Hector R. Morales, UTEP President Diana Natalicio, Paso del Norte Health Foundation Board Chair Sandra Sánchez Almanzán, Carmen Ramirez, Joyce Meserve, Kim Miller, Christina Paz, School of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez and Diana Portillo. (Not pictured: Hector Rodriguez). Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News Service

“Every time we celebrate an occasion like this in health sciences and nursing, I always think back to the early 1990s when there was a huge need for health professionals in the community and (UTEP) was offering few programs in health professions,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio at a reception celebrating the fellows in January at the Health Sciences and Nursing Building.

She said the University began to realize that there was a huge demand from students to pursue degrees in the health professions, as well as a huge demand from hospitals and health care centers for graduates of these programs.

“When we recognized the gap that existed here, we began the process of filling that gap,” President Natalicio said. “And once the Paso del Norte Health Foundation came along with resources that could be strategic and invested, this began to gain momentum in a way that’s been truly extraordinary.”

The fellows - Joyce Meserve, Kimberly Miller, Hector Morales, Christina Paz, Diana Portillo, Carmen Ramirez, Hector Rodriguez, and Laura Rodriguez – have each received up to $3,500 to support their studies and enhance their research activities. The students will be the first cohort to graduate from the D.N.P. program in May.

“We are proud to honor this first group of Paso del Norte Health Foundation Fellows from the School of Nursing and hope that they continue to practice in this community to improve the health of people living in the region,” said Myrna Deckert, president and CEO of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

The fellowship is made possible by an endowment that was created through the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), which matched funds from a $1.5 million grant that UTEP received in 2009 from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to support the University’s Center for Simulation.

Funds distributed from the endowment will be used to provide graduate fellowships for students pursuing degrees in a health science field in the School of Nursing and the College of Health Sciences. Based on the foundation’s grant, UTEP has received more than $500,000 in TRIP funds, which will be split evenly between the school and the college.

TRIP is a state program established to enhance research productivity and faculty recruitment at public universities seeking national research (Tier One) university status.

Benjamin Flores, Ph.D., dean of the University’s Graduate School, said visionary community partners like the Paso del Norte Health Foundation have a tremendous impact on UTEP through strategic efforts that can be leveraged at a substantial level. In this case, students received generous fellowships that will support them while they pursue their graduate nursing degrees.  

“Upon graduation they will be credentialed as health experts who are ready to make substantial contributions to the Greater El Paso region,” Flores said.

Fellows are selected based on their academic excellence, research and leadership. Students will use the funds to continue their research initiatives.

Morales’ research looks at the effectiveness of couples and marriage therapy on law enforcement personnel. The fellowship has made it possible for his research to benefit from additional resources to help him implement his final project.

“I am honored to be selected as one of the first fellows in the Paso del Norte Health Foundation Fellowship. I have experienced firsthand the benefits of their support,” said Morales, a clinical instructor in the School of Nursing.

Miller teared up when she received her certificate of recognition during the reception.

She has developed a quality improvement project on heart failure and hopes to test it on her patients at the cardiology practice where she works. She looks forward to having hospitals implement her program some day.

“You never quit and you never stop learning,” Miller said about the D.N.P. program.

The Paso del Norte Health Foundation promotes health and prevents disease in the region through leadership in health education, research and advocacy.

Board Chair Sandra Sánchez Almanzán said that she and the rest of the PDNHF board and staff consider themselves stewards of one of the largest private foundations on the U.S.-Mexico border, which was established in 1995.

“Our job is to ensure that the health of the community as a whole is ever changing and improved and that we leave the community in much better shape than we found it,” Sánchez Almanzán said.

The PDNHF’s ongoing support of the School of Nursing has created many new opportunities. This spring, the school will implement the Alternative Clinical Experience (ACE) program that will support the school’s plans to increase its annual enrollment by more than 100 students by the University’s Centennial celebration in 2014.

“The collaboration that we have with the Paso del Norte Health Foundation demonstrates the commitment to support the health of our community by educating the next generation of health care leaders in the region,” said School of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Ph.D.