Meet Theresa Harvath
When Theresa Harvath opted for a bachelor’s degree in gerontology, many people said she was wasting her time and talent. Her mother suggested that hospital nursing would be a better professional move. Harvath, as it turns out, was and still is a trailblazer. Harvath recognized early in her education and career that health care needed a focus on prevention and rehabilitation. She now brings that visionary expertise to the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis to sharpen the skills of new, graduate-student nurses and prepare them for new roles emerging in health care.
Harvath earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from University of Wisconsin at Madison in a program ahead of its time, one that focused on community care, rather than hospital-based care. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing at Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing, where she also spent 14 years on the faculty. While there, she played a significant role in the creation of the Oregon Consortium Nursing Education curriculum, a unique partnership with community colleges. The initiative involved the implementation of innovative educational strategies, including reversal of classroom instruction. Today this internationally recognized expert in gerontological nursing and nursing education is poised to lead the School of Nursing’s newest master’s-degree program.
“I was growing restless and needed a new challenge,” said Harvath, a clinical professor and director for clinical education. “Recognizing that the retirement of baby boomer faculty in schools of nursing nationally was going to leave a void in academic leadership, I decided to step up.”
Harvath focuses on charting the course for the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing, an entry-level graduate program to prepare new nurses and expected to open in the next two years. Students in the proposed 18-month program will earn Master of Science in Nursing, be eligible for certification as a Public Health Nurse and will be prepared to take the national licensing examination for registered nurses. Critical to that preparation will be learning environments that foster student-led collaboration. Gone are the days of passive note taking and information regurgitation. Harvath will lead a program that leverages teamwork, state-of-the-art simulation labs and active learning.
“I can’t build a vision by myself. I brought my thoughts, my experiences and an enthusiasm to work with others here in the school who share those ideals,” Harvath explained. “I want to help create a program where we build a better nurse, one with a community-based focus, recognizing health disparities, care for older adults and rural health.”
“She has an innovative and audacious view of what nursing is and can become,” said Debbie Ward, associate dean for academics. “She has a view of the intellectual obligation of nursing and will enable us to prepare master’s students in nursing to hone their brain tools.”
Guided by the School of Nursing’s core values of leadership development, interprofessional and interdisciplinary education, transformative research, cultural inclusiveness and innovative technology, the entry-level master’s-degree program prepares new nurses as leaders in quality and safety, advocates for diverse patient populations and agents of change for healthier communities.
A recent survey found that while 88 percent of nursing school graduates moved into acute-care roles five years ago, that number has decreased to less than 50 percent today. Harvath, who spent 10 years as a clinical nurse specialist and staff nurse, envisions a master’s-degree program that helps move nurses into the places where health happens for people, whether in a hospital, in a rural primary-care clinic or at home. Harvath and the School of Nursing leadership want to attract students who want to develop new areas, like transitional and navigational care, where nurses can lead and shape policy as well.
“Our hope is that graduates of our program will have additional attributes in terms of their thinking, their leadership and their understanding of the health-care system,” Harvath said. “We want to prepare our students for a health-care system that has not yet been designed. We want them integrally involved in designing models of community-based care, chronic-disease care and prevention of hospitalizations that improve care for all.”