Alumni of Houston nursing schools unite for #HoustonNursesTogether initiative

Prairie View A&M, Texas Woman’s and UH nursing grads team up to celebrate 2020 as the Year of the Nurse

Alumni of Houston nursing schools unite for #HoustonNursesTogether initiative

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When Houston hospitals began filling up in recent weeks because of the intensified battle with COVID-19, the “calvary” arrived by the hundreds.

Who are these health care heroes? Nurses.

The pandemic has amplified the importance of the health workers who take care of patients at the bedside, in nursing homes, in clinics, in educational settings and almost everywhere else.

To elevate these professionals and their profession in 2020, a seminal year for nursing on several counts, nursing alumni from Prairie View A&M University, Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and the University of Houston (UH) launched the #HoustonNursesTogether campaign.

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“Nurses don’t get the recognition I think we should get,” said Viola Hebert, RN, BSN, MA, vice president of the Prairie View A&M Nurses Alumni Chapter, who conceived the idea of Houston nursing graduates from different schools connecting virtually. “We are competitive in higher education, but we come together and work side-by-side after we graduate in caring for patients whether they are in the hospital, in the community or homeless. I just wanted to pay homage to that.”

Hebert also acted in tribute to the global recognition of nursing this year and to her alma mater’s recent centennial.

Viola Hebert, RN, BSN, MA, vice president of the Prairie View A&M Nurses Alumni Chapter and a 1974 graduate of the Prairie View College of Nursing

The World Health Organization declared 2020 the “International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife” to honor 200 years since Florence Nightingale’s birth in 1820. Considered the mother of modern nursing, she was a trailblazer in sanitation and patient care.

Prairie View’s nursing program remains aglow in its ongoing centennial celebration—from 1918, when the historically Black university founded a two-year nursing diploma program for African Americans, to the following years when the first graduates began working in communities.

Prairie View’s College of Nursing resides in the heart of the Texas Medical Center, where the Denton, Texas-based TWU also planted one of its nursing campuses. With UH, all three programs have been recognized for their excellence as well as diversity and inclusion among students.

The #HoustonNursesTogether campaign began on Instagram and Facebook accounts with profiles featuring local nurses working in different roles.

Hebert wants to highlight the range of careers open to nurses. In her nearly 50 years in the field (with a master’s degree in industrial psychology), she has worked as a nursing educator and as a consultant. She directed Harris Health’s nursing workforce program and worked as a HIPAA program manager at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Today, she’s a “semi-retired” clinical liaison at Abbott Nutrition.

“Nurses are working in all walks of life—from the streets with the homeless to executives in board rooms. We are getting stories that represent all these different roles and environments to show how big nursing is,” said Hebert, who graduated from Prairie View with a BSN in 1974. “I just wanted to expose the public and our future—nursing students—to the many areas in the field of nursing.”

Tom Omondi, president of the UH College of Nursing Alumni Association, represents yet another professional trajectory. He’s a nurse-attorney who recently finished law school.

“Nurses are stepping up to the front lines and I think it’s a phenomenal time to elevate nurses,” said Brandon Johnson, APRN, FNP-C, a two-time graduate of Prairie View’s nursing school and an adjunct faculty member who is featured wearing scrubs in the campaign. He works as the lead nurse practitioner for Baylor College of Medicine’s thoracic surgery team and practices at CHI Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. “Nurses are sacrificing a lot of their time and mental health to help people get better—knowing that any day they take care of a COVID patient is the day they can contract it and take it home or to someone else in the community.”

Brandon Johnson, APRN, FNP-C, the lead nurse practitioner for Baylor College of Medicine’s thoracic surgery team who works at CHI Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, and an adjunct faculty member at the Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing.

Nurses have topped Gallup’s “Honesty and Ethics” ranking of the most trusted professions for the last two decades except in late 2001, post-9/11, when firefighters took that slot.

A big part of the urgency to attract more people to the profession, encourage more nurses to acquire advanced degrees and convince more with graduate-level credentials to become nurse educators is the looming nursing shortage.

By 2030, Texas is predicted to be short 60,000 registered nurses, according to a 2016 Nurse Supply and Demand Projections report from the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies and the Texas Department of State Health Services. The predictive models detail the shortage by region, type of nurse—such as licensed vocational nurse, registered nurse, nurse practitioner and midwife—and by employment setting, such as inpatient, outpatient, office, emergency department and school.

“The demand for nurses in nursing homes and residential care settings is projected to double between 2015 and 2030 while the demand for nurses in home health settings is projected to increase by 74 percent,” the report said.

Close to 46,000 nurses practice in Harris County, according to 2019 data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Still, by 2030, the unmet demand for RNs in the Gulf Coast region of Texas, which includes Harris County and surrounding areas, is expected to be 13,877—skyrocketing in just 15 years from a 1,089 deficit in 2015.

Lisa Rampy, director of development for the Texas Woman’s University College of Nursing and its College of Health Sciences

Online #HoustonNursesTogether activities are planned for the rest of year. TWU is sponsoring a virtual bingo night on July 21, Prairie View is planning a Labor Day bash on Sept. 4 and the University of Houston is leading a self-care continuing education panel on Nov. 19.

“All of our institutions’ alumni work together, so why not celebrate together? We feel like this is a great time to collaborate,” said Lisa Rampy, director of development for TWU’s College of Nursing and its College of Health Sciences. “This may become something we do annually.”

The effort is one of several new opportunities the COVID-19 crisis has presented to engage TWU graduates.

“Since March, we have had almost double the participants in any of our external alumni programming virtually than we have had face-to-face in an entire year previously,” Rampy said. “Alumni engagement is really important for all of our institutions. Our nursing alumni are key supporters of our programs. They are preceptors, they are mentors and are instrumental in overall networking for nursing professionals.”

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