University of Arizona BSN Students

BSN students in classroom environment before COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: University of Arizona College of Nursing)

Two dozen University of Arizona College of Nursing students will turn their 2020 tassels and join a workforce challenged by COVID-19, but armed with a holistic approach to healing.

GILBERT, Ariz. — Despite challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Arizona College of Nursing will present its first Bachelor of Science in Nursing Integrative Health (BSN-IH) degrees to the inaugural class of 24 students on Dec. 17.

The program, devoted to blending conventional health care with complementary approaches to mind-body-spirit well-being, is located in Gilbert, Arizona. As the first graduates prepare to enter the workforce, the BSN-IH program is flourishing. Sixty-four students enrolled in the most recent program, with a total enrollment of 216 expected by year three.

The program’s director, Betty Parisek, EdD, MSN, RN, credited Gilbert’s support, the uniqueness of the program’s holistic focus and the opportunity for students to engage in extensive community outreach as factors in its success.

“Our students and faculty are the best of the best, and we are blessed to be housed in Gilbert,” Dr. Parisek said. “It is a very holistic community with a long-standing history of partnering with organizations that will benefit the community at large.”

“Forming long-term partnerships with higher education institutions has always been a priority for us, and we were thrilled when the University of Arizona chose Gilbert to expand their BSN program,” said Gilbert Mayor Scott Anderson. “Now that the demand for those in the health care industry has become more critical, we’re grateful that University of Arizona students trained right here in Gilbert will be able to assist their communities when they are needed the most.”

The four-semester BSN-IH program for third- and fourth-year nursing students differs from the conventional BSN pathway in that it focuses on integrative health, and well-being assessment and promotion. Integrative health offers an alternative to traditional biomedical and pharmacological options, and promotes a healing-oriented, whole-person approach to health care. Conditions are clinically treated through a variety of methods, including lifestyle enhancement, nutrition and appropriate biomedical therapies.

Shynnah Tacheene, a member of the Navajo Nation who grew up in Pinon, Arizona, is one of the program’s first graduates. She looks forward to returning to her community, where she has a job lined up at a medical surgical unit run by Indian Health Services.

“Since COVID has greatly impacted the Navajo reservation, my role as a nurse on the reservation has become that much more meaningful,” Tacheene said. “I look forward to helping my people when they need it the most.”

Tacheene chose a career in nursing because of the need for health care professionals in her community. She was drawn to the integrative health focus of the BSN-IH program.

“I loved every moment, even with the challenges of COVID,” she said. “It combines conventional and holistic approaches to nursing, and the curriculum was just the right balance of each. I do feel that it has prepared me for the nursing profession, and I am excited to extend my knowledge on integrative health to the reservation.”

Dr. Parisek says that the program is unique because it encourages students to embrace the art of nursing in addition to the technical skills.

“Students typically focus on the tasks that they’re learning, but the integrative health focus helps them remember the principles of integrative nursing,” she said.

Components of self-care are woven throughout the curriculum, including many complementary therapies that students can use not only with their patients, but also for themselves.

Robust community partnerships in Gilbert and the surrounding communities are a cornerstone of the program.

“We feel we have a responsibility to the communities we serve,” Dr. Parisek said. “We want to be present not only as UArizona Nursing, but also as part of our community.”

Last year, students had an opportunity to work with the Lauren’s Institute for Education, a school for developmentally disabled children and adults. BSN-IH students also completed clinical hours and provided health screenings and education for Mercy Housing, the nation’s largest affordable housing advocacy organization. Additionally, plans are underway for students to provide health care outreach to Hushabye Nursery, which provides care for babies born to addicted mothers, as well as the local Boys and Girls Club after school program.

Many of those partnerships have been put on hold during the pandemic, but with the help of technological innovations provided by a recent gift from Andrew and Kristen Braccia, the BSN-IH program has prospered and grown as classes went virtual earlier this year.

“We determined very far back in spring that our students needed a lot of high-touch connections with faculty and with their peers,” Dr. Parisek said. “As we return to in-person activities, those connections with our students will only grow stronger. We will continue to be successful because our faculty live and breathe that philosophy, and I think it shows in our level of student attainment.”

UArizona Nursing’s BSN-IH applications for the Summer 2021 cohort close Dec. 15; for the Fall 2021 cohort, applications close Feb. 1, 2021. To apply, visit the program’s website.

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