Finding better ways to cope with crises like the chaos caused by the 9/11 terrorist attack and confusion in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are a couple of important reasons for a new academic program at Xavier.
The University is now teaching nurses how to take leadership roles in disasters.
A dual degree program—a Master of Science in Nursing and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice—began this semester. Students, who must already be registered nurses, receive two separate degrees after completing 46 semester credit hours in an integrated course of study involving nursing and criminal justice graduate courses.
“I believe the future heads of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Red Cross should be graduates of this program,” says Susan Schmidt, chair of the Department of Nursing. Schmidt says the program is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
“Xavier is way ahead of the curve on this,” says Kam Wong, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. “We’re pioneering a whole new breed of leadership that will be needed in the future.”
Graduates of the program will be prepared for leadership roles in an emerging field that has a need for expertise in forensic nursing, criminal investigations and civil emergencies. Forensic nursing applies nursing abilities to criminal, civil and legal matters in such specialties as sexual assault nurse examiner, psychiatric nurse, legal nurse consultant, death investigator and nurse coroner. Graduates of the new program will be able to lead nurses into newer fields such as bioterrorism and disaster planning.
The 9/11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina are prime examples of the need for such expertise, according to Schmidt.
“An immediate fear after 9/11 was bioterrorism and an Anthrax scare came out of it,” says Schmidt. “Another big fear was that smallpox could be one of the bioterrorism agents. Smallpox was eradicated in 1967 and we now have an entire world that is not protected from it. If we produce nurses who are prepared for such bioterrorism, they can have a major impact on resolving what could be a disaster.”
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when an inadequate national emergency response left thousands of people in jeopardy, also illustrates what the new program is aimed at.
“People were homeless very quickly and they needed food and sanitary conditions,” says Schmidt. “You had children and elderly people isolated. Families couldn’t get to them. Some hospital situations were disastrous, with electricity and generators off. How are these folks going to be cared for? You need people who can clearly look at a complex situation of chaos and guide others. That’s what this new course of study is all about.”
Wong says it’s wise to exposes nurses to courses of study in criminal justice that traditionally appeal to local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
“When you’ve got a crisis, you call in the FBI. Now, I don’t want to put down the FBI, but nurses are always there as first responders and they should take a leadership role,” says Wong. “We’re breaking some stereotypes with our new program. The first one is that nurses are still Florence Nightingale, working in the back room, being kind and gentle and knowing nothing about guns.
“Another stereotype being broken is that police work by themselves. They work as a team and for that to happen we need to understand each other. In a sense, we’re changing the cultures of two great organizations—police and nurses—and making them better able to respond to crises. There’s a synergy there that gives us a strategic advantage.”
Blending the nursing and criminal justice programs is a perfect way to prepare students for new roles in a changing world, says Schmidt.
“Our master’s degree in criminal justice is an outstanding program and to have nursing students take advantage of it is a wonderful thing,” she says. “Criminal justice courses dealing with DNA and legal issues comprise new ground that some of nurses need to be trained in. We need a mass of people prepared to prevent more serious disasters that can follow an initial disaster, whether that’s a biochemical virus, a natural disaster like a hurricane or, God help us, a war.”