New courses are the first of their kind for NC nurses

ECU Nursing student Brooke Rebarker, left, and Laura Carmon, an NP with Vidant, work at Vidant’s large-scale COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the Greenville Convention Center in March 2021. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

UPDATE, JANUARY 2022: The certificate program referenced in the story below was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and is now accepting applications. All four of the Healthcare Emergency and Disaster Management courses are required to complete the certificate, which is open to both degree and non-degree seeking nurses with at least a BSN. Students currently enrolled in these classes will be eligible to have the credits count toward certificate completion.

The East Carolina University College of Nursing will offer four new courses in Healthcare Emergency and Disaster Management beginning in Fall 2021, making ECU the first university in the state to offer this kind of training.

The graduate-level courses are aimed at expanding nurses’ knowledge of emergency management and disaster preparation, response and recovery. The specialized instruction in these areas will prepare advanced nurses to lead communities and health care organizations to quickly find solutions and reduce suffering in the event of natural disasters, bioterrorism attacks, mass casualty events and pandemics.

“North Carolina is no stranger to disaster, and it is time for the ECU College of Nursing to take a leadership role in collaboration with other disciplines in responding to disasters with the education, training and certification to effectively respond,” said Dr. Robin Webb Corbett, chair of the Department of Advanced Nursing Practice, who will be among the faculty teaching the new courses.

Corbett has assisted in hurricane relief efforts in Edgecombe County, serving as the county’s chair of the Board of Health and has also chaired Edgecombe County’s Health Advisory during flooding episodes and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No other university in N.C. offers this training and we are excited to offer this educational endeavor,” Corbett said.

The new courses being offered are:

  • NURS 7900- Introduction to Healthcare Emergency and Disaster Management:Introduces emergency management and disaster preparation, mitigation, response and recovery.
  • NURS 7910- Healthcare Disaster Preparation, Response and Recovery:Provides an understanding of health care preparedness, response and recovery related to mass casualties and chemical, biological and radiological disasters both man-made and natural.
  • NURS 7920 Role of Nursing in Disaster Response: Provides specialized knowledge in emergency and disaster nursing care with vulnerable populations.
  • NURS 7930 Interprofessional Global Disaster and Humanitarian Response: Incorporates emergency and disaster management literature and best practices to inform an interprofessional humanitarian global disaster response.

The courses are open to nurses in any of the college’s graduate programs, as well as non-degree seeking nurses who have attained at least a BSN degree. One course will be offered each semester. Although the courses are currently only available to nurses, faculty hope to eventually expand their reach and offer them to students in other health care disciplines as well. The college is also pursuing a certificate program based around the courses.

Upon completion of the 7900 and 7930 courses, nurses will be eligible to take the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) National Healthcare Disaster Professional certification exam.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided the most recent evidence that this type of instruction is crucial for health care providers. But faculty at the College of Nursing — many of whom have significant experience in disaster relief through health care, military and community leadership — have been working toward providing more opportunities like these for years.

While pandemics may be once-in-a-lifetime events, natural disasters such as hurricanes are much more common, particularly in eastern North Carolina. During the past decade, North Carolina was in the path of 14 tropical storms, tropical depressions and hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Historical Hurricane Tracker. Most of those events occurred in the eastern part of the state, and several caused major damage and flooding, along with widespread and lengthy power outages.

A hot meal awaits community members in the St. Paul’s school cafeteria, which served as a shelter for those who had lost power and access to other needed resources due to Hurricane Matthew in 2016. ECU Nursing faculty member Dr. Michelle Skipper was recognized with a Governor’s Award for organizing the relief efforts in the community. (Contributed photo)

ECU Nursing faculty members Dr. Ann King and Dr. Michelle Skipper will provide leadership and instruction in these new courses.

As an Army Reservist, King has had emergency and disaster management training in bioterrorism, health care planning, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. During her last Army deployment to Italy from 2019-2020, King was the Chief of Clinical Operations for U.S. Army Africa and was at the forefront of the pandemic start in Italy as a provider and clinical advisor for the Command. There, King was the primary provider for Americans assigned to Italy and guided the public health response and contact tracing while developing policies for isolation and quarantine, advising the Command on recommended infection control measures, including early masking and physical distancing, implementing these measures even before the CDC made these recommendations.

King, a certified National Healthcare Disaster Professional, also has decades of disaster response experience leading planning and response teams for hurricanes.

“Nurses have so much expertise and knowledge that they are priceless as part of the team. But nurses need to know the language and understand the organization and function of emergency management, incident command, and community deployment,” King said. “These courses provide the foundation of disasters to ensure that nurses are equipped to be leaders in the community disaster management process from beginning to end. We can do so much more than manning shelters—we can save lives through our keen risk mitigation efforts, assessment skills, and passion for our citizens.”

Skipper, director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program and a clinical professor, has been instrumental in leading hurricane relief efforts in her community of St. Pauls. She received the Governor’s Award for Excellence — the highest honor a state employee can receive — for her relief work after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Armed with deeper understanding of health care emergency and disaster protocol, nurses will be better prepared to act quickly and confidently to leverage resources and lead teams to reduce suffering in their communities and health systems.

“Even going back to (Hurricane) Floyd, but certainly in the last five or six years, we’re in this mindset that it’s not if another disaster comes, it’s when another disaster comes,” Skipper said.

Students and prospective students interested in signing up for the courses should contact Dr. Ann King (kingca@ecu.edu) or Dr. Michelle Skipper (skipperm@ecu.edu).