The University of North Carolina at Pembroke has formed a new College of Health Sciences as part of its commitment to meet the health care needs of rural southeastern North Carolina.
The College of Health Sciences will initially consist of four pre-existing departments – counseling, health and human performance, nursing and social work – with approximately 100 faculty and 1,400 students.
University officials describe the new college as “historic” making it the university’s sixth college and first since 1999. The College of Health Sciences joins the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Business, School of Education, Maynor Honors College and The Graduate School.
The announcement is another milestone in the university’s 131-year history and comes as the university prepares for its first semester participating in the North Carolina Promise Tuition Plan. NC Promise offers in-state undergraduate students tuition of $500 per semester, an annual savings of more than $2500.
“The College of Health Sciences is part of our mission to build upon the foundation in place at UNC Pembroke, and to serve as an engine, a driver to strengthen our communities and meet southeastern North Carolina’s economic and health care needs,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.
“With the experienced leadership in place, and the unwavering support of our regional partners, our new college will begin immediately to produce highly-skilled health professionals for a region where they are greatly needed.”
“We have enjoyed unprecedented success in our existing healthcare programs but the demand is only going to grow. We know the need is there and we know we can meet it,” Cummings said.
Dr. Angela McDonald, associate dean of the School of Education, has been selected to serve as interim dean of the new college. McDonald joined the faculty in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in 2008.
“This is a new chapter of UNCP history,” she said. “You feel it when you are out on campus with all the construction and activity. It is incredibly exciting and a huge turning point for UNC Pembroke.”
As interim dean, McDonald will lead the transition efforts of the departments, programs and students to the new college and build the foundation while a national search for a founding dean is conducted.
Health-related undergraduate and graduate programs presently offered by departments being combined to form the new college will include nursing, social work, school counseling, clinical mental health counseling, athletic training, and exercise and sports science.
The nursing and athletic training programs have been recognized for their students’ excellent pass rates on their respective national and state board exams. Athletic training students have earned a 100 percent pass rate over the last four years. As of the most recent reporting by the North Carolina Board of Nursing, this year’s nursing class achieved a 98 percent passage rate on their first attempt.
Further development plans for the college include a three-phased approach adding additional bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs such as nurse practitioner, optometry, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics, and health administration. In addition, a two-year degree completion program is envisioned in rural health equity for individuals working in patient support roles who wish to transition to leadership positions in the health field.
UNC Pembroke Provost, Dr. David Ward, has served as dean of a College of Health Sciences at Armstrong State University and the University of New England. Ward has 30 years of teaching, health care practice and administration in higher education, and is well-positioned to implement a strategic vision for the growth of the new college at UNCP.
“By taking strong existing programs and strategically developing new high-demand programs, the new College of Health Sciences will be able to focus directly and singularly on educating and training the high quality, team-oriented health care workforce of the future,” said Ward.
“UNCP can be a catalyst for change in southeastern North Carolina. We can have a direct impact on health profession shortages and health outcomes for citizens throughout the region and beyond.”
The state budget adopted in 2017 provided up to $100,000 to perform a study on the feasibility of establishing the college at UNCP. The legislatively-directed study charged the UNC Board of Governors with considering the health care needs of the region as well as economic benefits. In March, the Board of Governors approved the study which will be used by the legislature while funding is being considered to expand existing and create new programs in the college.
During the planning phase, 81 regional health care professionals participated in five focus groups led by Dr. Jeff Frederick, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Results showed health care partners support the establishment of a new college and its potential to supply the providers needed in our region in the future and to positively transform health outcomes.
Dr. Cheryl Davis, chief medical officer for Scotland Healthcare System, said the expansion represents a new era in the approach to health care for the region.
“It creates alignment between the university and the front line of patient care within our surrounding communities,” said Davis, a member of UNCP Board of Visitors.
“Our community has some of the challenging and complex patients and some of the greatest provider needs. Therefore, this endeavor, marries a supply of students with one of the best learning environments in the state, a rural community.
“Together, we will help solve a critical piece of the puzzle of health care for this region.”
Southeastern North Carolinians have significantly less access to health care providers in every measureable health profession, and Robeson County is recognized as having some of the worst population health outcomes.
As one of the most rural areas in the second most rural state in the country, the counties in proximity to UNC Pembroke face staggering conditions of high obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, infant mortality, and death rates for minors.
“The challenges that our faculty are training students to tackle as professionals are really complex societal problems,” McDonald said.
“Working within teams out in the field, combined with the research students and faculty do on campus, matches the model that we are preparing our students to work in.
“I am excited to be a part of this. This is going to build on our connection with the region in a meaningful way.”
McDonald says the new College of Health Sciences raises the visibility of the health-related programs and gives them a collaborative identity which will benefit students.
Alex Tutts, a graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, said the new college will add to the university’s marketing tools in attracting prospective students.
“This is a great opportunity for the health science and social science fields to collaborate during our training phase,” she said. “This collaboration will strengthen our ability to serve our clients holistically.
“There are a lot of big changes happening at UNCP and there are so many more opportunities available that students can take advantage of.”