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  December 4, 2000

Opportunities Abound for Nurses,
Says Dean of Nursing School

Laura Dzurec says there couldn't be a better time than today to pursue a career in nursing: opportunities are plentiful and varied, and there's a nationwide shortage of nurses.

"The nursing shortage probably won't bottom out until at least 2010," says Dzurec, who became dean of the School of Nursing in August. "Five years ago, many nurses couldn't find jobs. That has completely changed."

Dzurec says one of the challenges for the school in the next few years will be to attract more students and faculty to help meet that shortage. "Our student numbers are growing and we want to continue that growth," she says. "There is a good interest among undergraduates and we have a very strong doctoral program. Their research is cutting-edge."

Dzurec, '74, joined UConn from Oregon Health Sciences University - an institution that specializes in health care education and biomedical research - where she was associate dean. She also was interim director and associate professor of nursing at the University of Maine and was a faculty member at Kent State University and Ohio State University.

Dzurec says a strategic plan for the UConn's nursing school is in the works, as well as revisions in the curriculum that include nursing courses for freshmen and sophomores. "We're preparing students for the world they're going to face when they graduate. We want to introduce them to the field early on, rather than have them wait until their junior year to take a nursing course," Dzurec says.

Many people - particularly middle school and high school students - have a pretty narrow picture of what nurses do, Dzurec says. Contributing to that perception, is the fact that "we haven't tooted our own horns enough" and the way nurses are portrayed in the media: "Nurses have often been represented in a less than optimal light on television. If doctors did everything they do on Chicago Hope, it would be a miracle. But they don't. The nurses are the front line of care providers."

There are myriad job choices for nurses today, Dzurec says. "You could spend the rest of your life in an emergency setting, or you need never see that. You can work with any age group from birth to death, health and illness and in-between, physical or emotional problems or legal issues. There are nurses in Washington involved in the various agencies that are part of the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health. Our programs can prepare people for these jobs."

Those in the nursing profession have the potential to become leaders, Dzurec says. "They have the potential to think creatively and build relationships. Often students don't understand that. They think 'someone will tell me what to do.' But nurses have to be able to troubleshoot and anticipate what might evolve in a variety of situations. Students need to understand the breadth of the profession and our teaching should reflect that. They need to understand the context in which people receive health care, and should be exposed to as many disciplines in health care and related areas as possible."

Not only do students need a good foundation in areas such as health care delivery systems, management, physiology, anatomy and chemistry, they also need a good base in skills that are "uniquely nursing," Dzurec says. One of those skills is being an advocate for patients and helping patients to be advocates for themselves.

A psychiatric nurse practitioner, Dzurec has studied the effects of low or hypo-thyroid function in women. About 14 years ago, she noticed that women with normal thyroid laboratory values often experienced symptoms similar to those you'd expect for people with hypo-thyroidism. If a woman and a man each went to a doctor with primary complaints of fatigue, the man would often be treated for fatigue and the woman for depression.

"My research shows that antidepressants didn't work for long for these women," Dzurec says. "They were still tired, couldn't focus,

couldn't concentrate." She began to question the blood test. Even if the results fell within the normal range, she thought, the range is wide, and the slightest difference could be important to learning about women's unique health care needs.

What she found is that low-dose thyroid hormone works for some

people. "Ten years ago, providers wouldn't go there," she says. "Now they're giving it a try."

Dzurec says about 10 percent of women suffer from these symptoms. "I'm very excited to have been part of that move toward viewing the problem in a different way. It's much more supportive of the needs of women," she says. "And that's an important nursing contribution: Advocating for patients in a world of complex health care issues."

Dzurec says School of Nursing faculty are conducting research on nursing issues involving people across the lifespan: "We're making important contributions to health care here at UConn," she says.

Sherry Fisher