February 16, 2001

Nursing school to explore bioterrorism curriculum

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Linda Norman is traveling to the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland to study bioterrorism. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Nursing school to explore bioterrorism curriculum

The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing has been asked by the Office of Emergency Preparedness to investigate the development of a disaster preparedness curriculum for nurses to respond to incidents from weapons of mass destruction.

Linda Norman, R.N., senior associate dean of academics, traveled to Coleraine, Northern Ireland, in February to meet with experts at the University of Ulster about a program in advanced disaster response preparedness.

The federal agency approached VUSN about the innovative curriculum in hopes that the school could develop a curriculum for all levels of nursing education, including continuing education programs.

“The OEP saw there was a great need to prepare all health care providers with basic information about weapons of mass destruction which includes bioterrorism,” said Norman.

“If ever there was an event – a terrorist attack, a bombing or chemical explosion – the response could well overwhelm anything in most city’s disaster plans.”

Norman said ER staff, EMT’s, and some fire and police departments are usually the only personnel who have training specifically for responding to disasters from weapons of mass destruction. The OEP wants to increase health care workers’ preparedness when disaster strikes.

Her trip to Ulster will help the school understand what steps are necessary to develop such a curriculum and effectively reach all levels of nursing.

Norman’s goals are to learn how the courses are taught; discover what type of partnership could be explored with the University of Ulster program; and explore the development of web-based programs to aid in the sharing of teaching strategies.

Although Norman admits that bioterrorism as most think of it is not likely in Nashville, similar situations including a chemical plant explosion and events like the Oklahoma City bombing are situations health care providers need to be trained to handle.

“Nurses represent the largest group of health care providers and are involved in many areas, such as the community, acute care institutions and rehab facilities,” Norman said. “We need to learn how to respond to these situations. Emergency teams and hospitals could become overwhelmed.”

Norman’s visit to Ireland allowed her to meet with instructors and discuss ways to develop curriculum modules that would fit VUSN ‘s and other U.S. nursing programs of study.

The Ulster program is a European-wide Master’s degree in disaster relief nursing. The course of study provides students with the necessary skills and knowledge to take on leadership roles of multinational teams involved in the health care of the world’s disaster zones. The three-year, part-time course also includes a 12-week field placement as a member of a disaster relief team.

A team from VUSN visited the U.S. Public Health Service Noble Training Center in Anniston, Ala. last fall. This facility would be used as a training site for students and faculty.

“Disaster is a real threat,” Norman said. “We don’t think about it. Our traditional ways of responding to emergencies don’t work when you are confronted with terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.”