category: President's Blog

April 2020: GWU’s Healthcare Heroes

April 2020 President's Blog Image

Heroes. In the best of times, that word gets bandied about casually and is far too often overused. Today, as we inch forward toward what we hope is the end of a protracted pandemic, the notion of heroism takes on sharpened clarity. There is no question but that the heroes of 2020 are the frontline workers in our nation’s healthcare system. In this month’s blog, I want to celebrate and salute those who choose a profession in one of the health sciences…and I want to point out to everyone who will listen that Gardner-Webb University is home to signature degree programs that will save lives and serve the region for generations to come.

While most of society has followed the orders to stay safe hunkered down at home, our healthcare specialists have had no such luxury. Doctors, nurses, PAs, first responders and others have risen to meet a challenge few could ever have envisioned. Often underequipped and working amidst less than ideal circumstances, these health professionals have bravely confronted COVID-19 with determination and resolve. As sickness, death, and uncertainty have swirled about them, these genuine heroes have rallied. They have worked grueling hours. They have separated from their own families, so as to avoid passing along the invisible nemesis to loved ones. They have fought fierce battles, and they are now turning the tide toward victory.

The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, is reputed to have said, “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” Although the spirit of fear has clearly taken root in some quarters, not so among the community of health professionals. Instead, that community embodies the spirit of heroism…and, as a result, much is indeed being done. We should all find a moment to reach out and thank—truly thank—those health professionals who have been battling for us.

We in the Gardner-Webb family should also find a moment to take stock of how our institution contributes to the provision of health services in our state. North Carolina’s private colleges and universities account for 89% of Physician Assistant degrees in the state and 52% of Master’s of Nursing degrees. GWU is a major motor driving these and many more numbers that attest to the importance of a well-trained healthcare workforce.

For us, it all starts in our College of Health Sciences. Yet like so many things at GWU, we don’t want that College to be a “hidden gem” or “one of North Carolina’s best kept secrets.” To the contrary, at a moment such as this we want to LOUDLY trumpet all that this College and other GWU affiliated programs do to keep us and our neighbors healthy. We want to let everyone know that today’s Hunt School of Nursing has been producing nurses for 55 years! At Gardner-Webb, “nursing education reflects a scientific and liberal arts foundation, encompassed within a faith-based environmental setting.” Think about the indelible impact of more than a half-century of nursing education on the communities that surround us…a private university with a very public mission.

GWU’s College of Health Sciences is also home to our burgeoning Department of Physician Assistant Studies. A young but rapidly ascending program, PA recently secured its accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA). Our program holds as its mission to “Develop knowledgeable and caring physician assistants who practice competent patient-centered primary care with a focus on underserved populations.” Again, here is Gardner-Webb at its best…caring, competent, and compassionate work on behalf of God and humanity. Heroes.

The College’s third pillar resides in the Exercise Science program. Exercise Science “is the scientific study of human movement performed to maintain or improve health and wellness. This applied science field is focused on using exercise to prevent disease, facilitate rehabilitation, promote health, and enhance human performance.” Societal demand for graduates in this field is growing, and Gardner-Webb stands ready to make a real name for itself in this area. Preventative healthcare has to be a critical element in future efforts to remain resilient in the face of disease.

Beyond the College of Health Sciences, we have other important feeders to the healthcare pipeline coming out of Gardner-Webb. Our School of Psychology and Counseling has undergraduate and graduate offerings that include a focus on clinical mental health counseling. Too often, the psychological and mental health dimensions of a crisis such as the one we are going through now are neglected…our School ensures that this won’t happen here. GWU’s College of Business allows students to pursue a BS in Healthcare Management, and our College of Arts and Sciences boasts affiliated programs in Health, Sport, and Physical EducationBiology, and Chemistry. Across the University’s broad curriculum, we provide undergraduates with Pre-Professional Pathways that prepare them for advanced study in a range of health-related fields. More troops for the battle.

College of Health Sciences outside

As we look to the post-Coronavirus future, we hope to grow and strengthen our programs in the health sciences. One of the biggest opportunities to propel our health sciences programs forward lies in a name: The College of Health Sciences. When I arrived on campus last July, I was really surprised to learn just how few of our colleges and schools have been named. Certainly, naming the College of Health Sciences is a priority, because connecting the right donor with this institutional point of pride stands to further elevate GWU’s stature across the state and beyond. If the right friend is reading this and is moved to make a difference, please contact me…I’m in the university directory!

I want us to focus in the future on building more interdisciplinary synergies. There is much we can do, for example, through a partnership between health sciences and foreign languages (e.g., the rising community need for medical Spanish). Much can also be done to link the health sciences with the social sciences and with public administration, as healthcare policy is inextricably linked to politics and governmental action. The connections between our programs in religion, divinity, and healthcare should be obvious, and we can do more to reinforce them. We are already working to establish something that is surprisingly missing at Gardner-Webb, namely a student health clinic. The present pandemic only reinforces the urgency of standing up such a clinic, and we are vetting bids by multiple providers and hope to have the service in place later this year.

Suffice it to say that the health sciences figure prominently on Gardner-Webb’s marquee. They should and will figure prominently in our University Strategic Plan, which maps out priorities for the next five years. If COVID-19 has done nothing else, it has reminded us of the pressing societal need for graduates of programs like the ones we have right here.

Let me wrap up by returning to the word, Heroes. The fine folks at Wikipedia define a hero as someone “who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage, or strength.” My friends, we are living through dangerous times, but we are buoyed and bolstered by the heroes among us. A profound THANK YOU to all of the GWU alumni who have since gone on to careers in healthcare, and words of encouragement to all of our current students who intend to follow the same path: May God bless you and your work.

Pro Deo et Humanitate,

Dr. William M. Downs

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