The WSU College of Nursing is creating a new undergraduate curriculum that looks at health care differently.

Students will first learn about keeping people healthy before moving on to treating illness. They’ll take a holistic approach to care, considering the social, emotional, and relational aspects of health that go beyond medical treatments. And their classes over the course of four semesters will be more tightly integrated.

“Most cutting-edge schools are moving toward health promotion as a grounding,” said Lisa Day, associate dean for academic affairs at the WSU College of Nursing. “WSU is now moving in with that group.”

The proposed curriculum has been approved by the faculty governance organization. Next it will be considered by WSU’s Faculty Senate. The earliest it could be implemented is fall semester 2021.

WSU is due for a curriculum revision. The college’s current curriculum was adopted in 2000, said Associate Professor Billie Severtsen, chair of the curriculum committee.

Severtsen said WSU and most other nursing programs have long followed a medical model of education, where students are taught to care for the sickest patients. Their first clinical experiences are in nursing homes, followed by caring for very ill patients in hospitals.

“That’s not a fair representation of what a healthy older adult looks like, and it doesn’t represent where most people are,” Severtsen said.

Students lead a stretching class.
The new undergraduate curriculum focuses on helping students learn about keeping people healthy before moving on to treating illness.

Similarly, a clinical experience in a neonatal intensive care unit isn’t a fair representation of the vast majority of healthy births.

Under the proposed new curriculum, students will first care for healthy people, or those with stable chronic conditions, in settings like senior citizen communities or in their own homes. Then they’ll move on to care for more acutely ill patients.

College of Nursing Instructor Sarah Griffith, who led the curriculum-revision task force with fellow Instructor Lynn Jinishian, said teaching students what it means to age well in place or manage a chronic condition helps them understand “what the end zone is” for a patient who’s hospitalized.

Jinishian added that the restructuring will put students into hospitals in their senior year of nursing school, better preparing them for that experience.

WSU College of Nursing students were members of the curriculum task force and “had significant input,” Jinishian noted.

Severtsen said the proposed curriculum also is innovative in its approach to mental health.

“The healthcare system, along with society as a whole, has treated mental illness as a moral failure,” she said.

The new curriculum will address mental health issues like grief as well as standard mental illnesses, and treat conditions such as addiction as conditions deserving of compassionate interventions.

Said Griffith, “So much of nursing education is around acute episodic illness. With this new curriculum we wanted to get away from a curative mindset and focus on quality of life, to help a person function well in their life.”