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New PSU degree helps school nurses

January 24, 2014 7:00AM

Lorry Pichler loves being a school nurse. She loves the interaction with children and feels a sense of accomplishment in being able to help with their medical needs. But as a nurse for the Southeast Kansas Interlocal #637, which provides special education services for 13 southeast Kansas school districts, Pichler realized she needed to know more about how to best serve the exceptional students she sees daily.

Lori Pichler at Interlocal officePichler was one of a number of nurses who met with Pittsburg State University administrators in 2011 and 2012 to design a new master’s degree program for nurses who work in school health settings. That new program got underway this spring.

The program leads to Master of Science degree in education with an emphasis in school health. The online program is a cooperative effort between PSU’s Department of Teaching and Leadership and PSU’s Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing.

“Special education has grown so much,” Pichler said. “It is important for school nurses to understand the needs of these children and to learn how to interact with them in the most effective way.”

Alice Sagehorn, chair of the Department of Teaching and Leadership, said the nurses’ input was critical to developing the right program for them.

“We asked the school nurses what they wanted to learn so we could tailor the program to their needs,” Sagehorn said. “There was a great deal of interest among the school nurses in learning more about working with children with autism and other exceptionalities. It was also important to them for the program to be online, so they can continue to work as they pursue the degree.”

The result was an interdisciplinary program. Twelve of the advanced hours are taught through the school of nursing. The remaining 24 hours are through the College of Education. Included in the coursework is a leadership component.

Of the 36 hours, 15 are in special education, including courses on autism, children with disabilities, special education law and partnerships with families of exceptional children.

Sagehorn said that no similar program exists in Kansas. In Missouri, the only graduate program with an emphasis in school health is part of the Masters of Public Health Nurse program at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“There definitely is a need,” Sagehorn said, noting that there are more than 700 school nurses in Kansas, alone.

Pichler said she is excited to be one of the first students in the program and to have had the opportunity to shape the new degree.

For more information on the Master of Science with a major in Education and an emphasis in School Health, call 620-235-4488.

©2014 Pittsburg State University

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