Expansion plans: Binghamton’s Decker School of Nursing to become a college of nursing and health sciences

Rehabilitation sciences is one of three areas into which Decker is expanding, with plans to offer programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology. Image Credit: Katie Honas '14.
Rehabilitation sciences is one of three areas into which Decker is expanding, with plans to offer programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology.
Rehabilitation sciences is one of three areas into which Decker is expanding, with plans to offer programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology. Photography: Katie Honas '14.

By 2026, the healthcare industry will add around 4 million new jobs, and the already high demand for healthcare professionals in the United States will skyrocket. To prepare students to fill these gaps, Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing aims to expand into a college of nursing and health sciences.

The proposed college would encompass three schools: nursing, rehabilitation sciences and applied health sciences.

Rehabilitation science programs would be offered in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology. Applied health science programs would be offered in health sciences with concentrations in areas such as forensic health, health promotion, health education, nutrition and exercise science. Undergraduate- and graduate-level degree programs would be available.

“It’s a natural progression for the University to expand into health sciences,” says Donald Nieman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, citing Binghamton University’s health expertise in several disciplines within the Decker School of Nursing, Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, College of Community and Public Affairs, Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science and new School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He says the University intends to build on that base to give Binghamton a bigger footprint in healthcare and health sciences.

“We feel a responsibility for educating professionals who can serve the health needs of our society with an aging population,” Nieman says. “We also feel it’s a really good step to help us prepare more of our students for in-demand professions and careers in an area where they ave significant interest.”

Nieman adds that developing a college of nursing and health sciences is also consistent with the University’s goal of expanding graduate enrollment, as some of the new degree programs would be at the master’s and doctoral levels. Further, it would help Binghamton grow its research programs since the biggest part of federal funding for research is in health.

“It also gives us opportunities to commercialize intellectual property in the health field,” he says.

A vision and the knowledge to achieve it

Mario Ortiz, who joined Binghamton in 2016 as dean of the Decker School of Nursing, expressed his vision for a college of nursing and health sciences during his interview more than two years ago.

He suspected then that there weren’t enough academic programs in health sciences offered within the region, based on an evaluation he conducted prior to interviewing. His belief was confirmed when he met with representatives from healthcare agencies once he was on board at Binghamton.

According to Ortiz, local healthcare organizations provide clinical experiences for students in health science programs, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy, but few students remain in the region.

“Hospitals and other healthcare organizations are rotating students through, and maybe a few students stay, but not enough for the amount of work it takes their employees to help educate students year after year, semester after semester,” Ortiz says.

During his first year on campus, Ortiz helped develop the proposal to create a college of nursing and health sciences. The idea was selected as one of the University’s four Road Map Renewal initiatives. This enabled Ortiz to hire external consultants to conduct a formal needs assessment required for the accreditation process to establish programs in these disciplines. The consultants evaluated: Can Binghamton University accommodate a college of nursing and health sciences? Is there a need for the proposed programs within the region, state and country? Would the college be sustainable in the future?

The assessments were completed in spring 2018; all results were positive. The University expects the college to generate enough revenue to support itself.

In addition, both Nieman and Ortiz say regional response to the proposal has been overwhelmingly positive.

“When I floated the idea of creating a health sciences college at Binghamton University to some of our constituents, by the time I got to my second sentence they would say, ‘Yes, how can we help?’” Ortiz says.

At the same time the assessments were being performed, the project team was busy developing academic and business plans for the proposed college, as well as creating its mission and vision statements.

Ortiz and the team are now working to hire directors for the physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology programs; they hope to have these individuals on campus by spring 2019. The next hurdle will be getting each program’s curriculum developed and reviewed by the national accreditation body for that discipline — the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education and the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. These groups review a limited number of programs twice a year.

Nieman is pleased with the progress of the initiative, noting that it has been thorough, realistic and expeditious. Speed is essential, he believes.

“If you have an idea and you really want to accomplish it, you need to put a plan in place and move that plan along quickly or you lose momentum,” he says. “People lose interest, people lose focus, something else comes along and you end up not doing it, and you’ve wasted a lot of time in the visioning and planning.”

He credits Ortiz for helping keep this project on track.

“When we interviewed Mario, it was very clear to me that he is a person who can think big and develop a really strong vision, but who is also a doer, someone who moves quickly and whose actions match his vision.”

Ortiz admits that the timeline has been ambitious. “I know some things move at a snail’s pace, so I need to be aggressive,” he says.

A look into the future

The occupational, physical and speech therapy programs will be launched in phases, but Ortiz expects all three programs to be up and running by 2022. He anticipates the new programs will initially add approximately 250 students, and when combined with nursing, public health and health and wellness studies students, this would bring Decker’s enrollment well beyond 1,000.

According to Ortiz, each of the three programs will have seven or eight faculty members in addition to a program director and a clinical-placement coordinator. Staff will be hired in phases.

Both Nieman and Ortiz are confident the University will succeed with the proposal. Ortiz has been through the process before so he understands the challenges ahead.

“This will be my fourth college of health sciences,” Ortiz says, “and Binghamton has been extremely welcoming to my idea.”

Posted in: Health, Campus News, Decker