Sacred Heart University will create School of Nursing

Sacred Heart University will expand its nursing program into a new School of Nursing, beginning with the start of the fall semester.

The new School of Nursing, which will open with about 1,100 undergraduate and graduate nursing students, will be part of the Fairfield-based university’s College of Health Professions. It will have 29 full-time faculty members and a support staff of 11.

About a third of the students in the new School of Nursing will be pursuing undergraduate degrees, while two-thirds are seeking advanced degrees and doctorates. About half of the 1,100 students are online students.

Steady growth in program

The decision to transition the university’s Department of Nursing into a School of Nursing reflects the program’s steady growth over the past 33 years, said Patricia Walker, dean of the College of Health Professions.

Walker called the transition a “natural next step” in the development of the nursing department, which has reached a “critical mass” and now has the ability to stand on its own as a separate school.

As an example of its growth, 150 freshmen are scheduled to enter the nursing program this fall, representing a 50% increase from the 100 freshmen who entered the program in the fall of 2012.

Will increase program’s exposure

Creating a separate and distinct School of Nursing within the College of Health Professions also will increase the program’s exposure and recognition, both on the regional and national levels, said Susan DeNisco, who has been appointed the school’s interim director.

“Our nursing faculty members are known for their clinical expertise, initiatives in global health and use of state-of-the-art technology and are excited about the future possibilities that the school designation will bring,” DeNisco said.

The transition from nursing department to nursing school also has a competitive component to it in that it will help the university compete against nursing schools both in and out of Connecticut — not only for the best undergraduate nursing students, but also for the most talented doctoral students and doctoral-level faculty members.

Nationwide search

The university has enlisted the aid of an academic search firm to help it conduct a nationwide search for a permanent director of the new school.

DeNisco, who has served SHU’s Nursing Department in several different capacities during the past 15 years, is a candidate for the permanent position.

Nursing program’s beginnings

The nursing program at SHU was launched in 1980 as an RN to BSN program, in which registered nurses with nursing diplomas could receive their bachelor’s degree.

Today, it offers a wide range of academic programs, including programs for pre-nursing students, first-professional degree students, a campus-based family nurse practitioner program, a doctorate of nursing practice, a nursing program designed specifically for on-site students, and online programs for RN to BSN, RN to MSN, and MSN.

About Sacred Heart University

Sacred Heart is the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, with more than 6,000 students. It offers more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs on its main campus in Fairfield as well as satellite locations elsewhere in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland. Learn more at