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Education: Major Highlights

Annual Report - 2005-2006

A Unique Nursing Experience

“It’s almost too good to be true,” Elizabeth Sorensen says.

Maria D. Guerrero echoes her sentiment, “It’s a great learning opportunity. I would encourage any advanced practice nurse to pursue it.”

What’s got Sorensen and Guerrero so excited is M. D. Anderson’s Post-Graduate Fellowship in Nursing Oncology. These two are the “early pioneers” going through the program and they are enjoying every moment.

“It’s been excellent. I’m learning about each disease site and seeing how different cancers are managed. It’s been an enlightening experience,” Sorensen says.

Believed to be the first of its kind in the country because of its length, depth and scope, “this advanced practice nurse fellowship covers the full spectrum of cancer care from prevention to survivorship and end-of-life,” says Joyce Dains, fellowship co-coordinator and manager of the Professional Education for Prevention and Early Detection program.

The yearlong fellowship offers advanced practice nurses the chance to develop their expertise in cancer care. Clinical practice combined with participation in classes, nursing research and a variety of rounds, conferences and professional activities provides a rich and comprehensive experience.

In partnership with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s School of Nursing, fellows take nine credit hours of post-graduate courses that focus on oncology nursing and evidence-based practice. They also engage in several specialty care courses offered at M. D. Anderson.

The bulk of the program, however, is the time fellows spend with various health care teams throughout M. D. Anderson. Paired with advanced practice nurse preceptors during the year, fellows complete mandatory clinical rotations in prevention, cardiology, palliative care, infectious disease, psychology and endocrinology. They also can elect to rotate in other centers of interest.

When all basic requirements are fulfilled, fellows choose a specialty area for clinical practice, which lasts about eight months. Here, they gain additional hands-on experience in treating patients and managing their follow-up care congruent with the role and function of M. D. Anderson advanced practice nurses.

“The fellows are doing well,” says advanced practice nurse Carol Dallred, who coordinates the day-to-day aspects of the fellowship. “I hear nothing but good responses from everyone involved. Both of the fellows are creative and flexible, which are wonderful assets.”

Educational Pursuits

When major academic and medical institutions come together, good things can follow.

So was the case as M. D. Anderson, The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston joined forces to form a new biomedical engineering department to operate in Houston and Austin.

The inter-institutional department is part of the College of Engineering at UT Austin, with equivalent units at both Houston sites. It fosters collaboration through programs and incentives that include providing seed grants for new research, facilitating multi-investigator research and training grant proposals, and offering special educational programs and internships.

The UT Center for Biomedical Engineering, formerly a partnership between the three institutions, became part of this new department. The center has expanded programs for translating basic discoveries into novel treatments and building cooperative arrangements with industrial partners.

“We’re entering an age of medicine that will take detection, treatment and prevention to the molecular and patient-specific levels, and we must have the talent pool and expertise to develop and perfect the technologies needed to leverage this knowledge and care for patients,” says Charles Patrick, Ph.D., deputy chair ad interim of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at M. D. Anderson.

Opportunities to educate the next generation of physicians and scientists extended further last year as bioengineering students from Rice University began making clinical rounds and taking coursework at M. D. Anderson as part of an innovative Ph.D. training program.

Funded by a four-year, $850,000 Howard Hughes Medical Institute “Med to Grad” initiative award, the Translational Bioengineering for Cancer Diagnostics and Therapeutics program builds on four existing joint areas of research between M. D. Anderson and Rice. They include: computational bioengineering for design of cancer-inhibiting agents; molecular imaging for early cancer detection; nanobiotechnology for design of new cancer imaging and therapeutic agents; and cell and tissue engineering for development of effective reconstructive procedures after tumor resection.

Students take courses taught jointly by M. D. Anderson and Rice faculty. By the end of the program, they will have completed an intensive clinical cancer internship and translational research rotation.

Stamp of Approval

It was no easy task for Marilyn Greer, Ph.D., director of the Department of Institutional Research, and her six-member team to compile the extensive documentation necessary for M. D. Anderson’s academic programs to receive accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Following an intensive process that spanned several years and involved many faculty, staff and students from M. D. Anderson and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Greer and her group prepared and shipped sets of key documents, totaling 160,615 pages plus appendices and other materials, to the commission for its review.

In notifying M. D. Anderson of its initial five-year accreditation, SACS officials reported that the institution satisfied 11 core requirements, 67 comprehensive standards and eight federal requisites, and concluded that M. D. Anderson’s academic programs are very strong. They were “most impressed” by the comprehensive materials explaining the teaching activities, the one-to-one faculty-student ratio and how education is fully integrated with the “world-class research and clinical programs.”

During a three-day site visit, the SACS accreditation committee “had only one minor recommendation,” says Stephen P. Tomasovic, Ph.D., senior vice president for academic affairs. “It concerned the way we evaluate our relationships with the Health Science Center and other academic institutions — and we were able to satisfy that request in just a few minutes.”

Two key decisions preceding the SACS application were authorization in 1999 by the Texas Legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for M. D. Anderson to confer baccalaureate programs in allied health and in 2001 to jointly award master’s and Ph.D. degrees with the Health Science Center.

Tomasovic notes that while M. D. Anderson “has always had a significant educational mission, the SACS accreditation is an important milestone because, for the first time, we are officially accredited as a degree-granting institution.”

This is important to students, he adds, because accreditation is required for them to obtain financial aid from the federal government and other funding sources, as well as for students to transfer credits when they seek advanced degrees.

Going Beyond Our Borders

With the stroke of a pen, Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital became an M. D  Anderson sister institution.

Sister institutions are those with which M. D. Anderson has signed collaborative research and teaching agreements in other countries, so far including China, Brazil, Chile, India, France, Japan and Mexico. In part, these alliances are fueled by the fact that a large number of faculty members have long-standing ties with peers far from Houston. Almost 20 sister institution agreements have ratified some of these informal arrangements and others are pending.

Researchers and nurses from cancer facilities in 16 countries witnessed the formal signing of the Tianjin agreement at the second M. D. Anderson Sister Institution Conference in summer 2006, where trends in translational research, therapy and cancer prevention were discussed.

“This historic agreement will help advance our mutual global agenda and benefit people worldwide,” says M. D. Anderson President John Mendelsohn, M.D. “By working closer together, we can all learn a great deal and help reduce the impact of cancer at a faster rate.”

Faculty members at both institutions have collaborated on translational research projects in cancer pain management, genomics, molecular markers and breast and gastrointestinal cancers for more than a decade. As part of this new agreement, they plan to conduct further research in epidemiology, radiation oncology and tissue banking, as well as to provide training exchange opportunities for investigators.

“Scientists at our institutions have been productive research partners, sharing the best developments and traditional practices in Eastern and Western medicine for the betterment of cancer patients,” says Xishan Hao, M.D., president and professor of surgical oncology at the Tianjin center. “We’re pleased to set in motion an agreement to advance our research and education missions.”

M. D. Anderson also fosters other types of collaborative partnerships that are similar to the sister institution alignments but without formal signed agreements. One project includes translational research collaborations with Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncologicas, the prestigious national cancer research institute of Spain.

Mendelsohn says “the success of M. D. Anderson’s sister institution program rests on the efforts of its faculty who develop the collaborative arrangements and the Office of Extramural Programs, which provides excellent initiative and support.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center