The University of Texas at Arlington has received a transformational $4.7 million gift from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust to further develop its adult gerontology graduate programs. The university said in a news release that the trust saw the need to create a stronger pipeline of professionals and recognized UTA as a leader in the field.

“We were impressed by the foundation UTA had created in improving the quality of care for our aging population,” Executive Director Art Sundstrom said.

“We view our relationship with UTA as an opportunity to expand the pipeline of more qualified professionals in taking care of older adults.”

The trust’s gift will fund scholarships, create an endowed faculty position and grow all gerontology-focused graduate nursing programs, UTA said.

The number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to double by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau. As life expectancy increases, the need for passionate and highly skilled graduates like Briana Hodson becomes more critical, the news release said.

In her brief but prolific nursing career, Hodson has witnessed a lack of understanding for the geriatric population, resulting in less-than-ideal outcomes for patients. To address this challenge, she believes gerontology nursing must be approached holistically.

At age 27, the UTA graduate has worked in seven U.S. states, numerous hospitals, a handful of rural medical centers and one jail. She’s been a travel nurse, a school nurse and a case manager and has treated patients in medical-surgical units specializing in postoperative and orthopedic-neurologic care.

But her passion lies in meeting the complex needs of America’s rapidly growing population of older adults.

“I’ve seen all types of patients, but I find the geriatric population particularly engaging. I just seem to click with them,” said Hodson, whose current position includes geriatric care at Seattle’s Northwest Hospital, a branch of University of Washington Medicine.

“There’s a lot of research to be done in this field, and I wouldn’t trade this career for any other in the world,” she said.

In August, she completed her master’s degree in UTA’s Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program. She also earned her Bachelor of Nursing degree from UTA, graduating summa cum laude in 2016.

Through its nationally ranked graduate offerings, UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation prepares nurses for advanced practice, management and research endeavors to address a changing health care landscape, the news release said.

Kathryn Daniel, associate professor and director of the Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner programs, emphasizes that the college’s graduate programs enable students to delve into specialized areas of nursing.

“Undergraduate offerings create a breadth of knowledge for nurses,” she said. “But degrees at the master’s and doctoral levels create opportunities for students like Briana to focus on and dive deeper into issues facing their chosen areas of expertise.”

Daniel’s philosophy on graduate programs mirrors a growing trend among nursing schools across the country, UTA said. The need for health care that understands the unique differences in each stage of life is significant, and as generations continue to age, the concern for better treatment of older adults intensifies.

“I am extremely proud of, and grateful for, the tremendous efforts being made by the faculty in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation in addressing the state’s and nation’s need for highly trained and skilled nurses,” UTA President Vistasp Karbhari said.

“Their focus and leadership on gerontology meets a growing need, and the generous gift by the Deerbrook Charitable Trust will be transformational in enabling UTA to not only expand our focus in this area but to simultaneously fund scholarships for deserving students and recruit top faculty to join our exemplary group of internationally renowned and dedicated faculty in this area,” Karbhari said.

“In nursing education, we focus on meeting the changing needs of society by preparing nursing professionals with relevant knowledge and expertise, including in areas such as gerontology,” said Elizabeth Merwin, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “To that end, creating more specialized instruction and more scholarship opportunities so our students can concentrate on their studies is of utmost importance.”

Merwin said the Deerbrook Charitable Trust’s gift “will solidify UTA’s nursing program as a center of gerontology excellence.”

“Its support represents strong validation of our work in this space while advancing one of the University’s key strategic priorities of health and the human condition,” she said.

Hodson said the adult gerontology program prepared her to examine the field from both individual and public perspectives.

“I know this program will benefit not only the individual patients and their families who come into contact with its specialty-trained providers, but the general public as well,” she said. “By decreasing the stigma of aging, reducing the morbidity and mortality of chronic diseases, and promoting good physical and mental health, the UTA program produces students who will be sure to leave an impact.”

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