When Suzanne Lundeen successfully defended her dissertation in the fall, she achieved a precedent in the 120-year history of the School of Nursing. Lundeen became the first person to go straight from an undergraduate degree in nursing to a doctorate.
For Lundeen, whose dissertation was about nurses dealing with preterm births, earning her doctorate was a professional journey that began and ended at the medical branch’s School of Nursing.
The youngest of five daughters born to a mining engineer and homemaker, Lundeen grew up in the Houston area and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing from UTMB in 1990. Even then she knew she wanted to go back for an advanced degree some day. Her dream always was in the back of her mind, even as she worked as a nurse in critical care and labor and delivery.
“I felt I could contribute to the profession in a different manner,” Lundeen said. “Taking this path to becoming a faculty member meant I could have a broader impact.”
The medical branch started its nursing doctoral program in 1997. And by the time Lundeen was ready to go back to school, the school had started a program in 2006 that allows candidates to move directly from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate.
“One of the things that pushed us forward was the need for faculty,” Alice Hill, director of the doctoral program in the School of Nursing, said. “We needed a cadre of Ph.D.-prepared faculty.”
The nursing shortage facing the country is due, in part, to the lack of skilled faculty required to teach those who want to be nurses. According to a report issued by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in September, almost two-thirds of the nursing schools responding to the survey pointed to faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into entry-level baccalaureate programs.
“The accelerated program is an opportunity to get them started earlier in their career,” said Hill. Moreover, the program moved online in 2009 and provides access to nurses who may not live near an institution that offers this program.
Lundeen and her husband had moved about every two years, following his career. She was considering attending a master’s degree program in Alabama, where she was living, when a sister here saw a billboard advertising UTMB’s program. She enrolled in 2006 and managed to get through the UTMB program in four years.
“It was a coming home in a way,” she said.
With her newly minted Ph.D. she’s applying for a faculty position in Denver, where she and her husband now are moving.
The School of Nursing graduates about five to six doctoral candidates each year, with about two dozen students pursuing their doctorate at any given time.
“You have to have fire in your belly,” said Lundeen. “It takes a lot of perseverance to get through the program.”
She describes the dissertation process as “a very lonely journey,” one she wouldn’t have completed without her friends in the program and her professors at the School of Nursing.
“I want to stress that the faculty is so supportive,” Lundeen said. “They want you to be successful. They help you in whatever way they can. The doctoral faculty in particular is exceptional. I don’t know if I would have been successful at another institution.”