Health sciences — nursing, physical and occupational therapy and clinical psychology — loom large in the growth of Brenau University. Expansion of graduate programs in those disciplines is well underway and will be a focus for the next couple of years.
Brenau will offer health care degrees for most fields — except an MD. It will have doctoral programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy and nursing.
The most visible, and expensive, part of the expansion is at the school’s Downtown Center, which will house physical therapy and other health care programs. That project is a $6.5 million investment.
The university accepted its first 40-student doctoral physical therapy class in May 2015. It is a three-year program. The second group of 40 students will start class in May. The 40 students have bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees.
The Downtown Center includes a physical therapy clinic staffed by the Brenau physical therapy professors and physical therapy students.
A second clinic, with Good News Clinics, which serves uninsured residents, is “in the works,” Kathye Light, the head of PT, said.
She explained she hopes and expects that a wellness cooperative with the community also will be developed. That program is in the beginning stages, she said, with students working with community residents who have some special needs.
The nursing program, which includes an undergraduate degree, now has three master’s level degree programs and a doctoral program.
Occupational therapy is offered at the Gainesville and Norcross campuses.
Dina Hewett, Brenau’s director of nursing and a Brenau graduate, said all the disciplines in the health care curriculum include training among those programs.
“It’s vital that our students start to work together when they’re in their initial programs,” she said. “When they get out in the work world, they’re all working together.”
Gale Starich, dean of the College of Health Sciences, agreed. Starich said the interaction among disciplines is “more and more what we see in the workplace,” she said.
The college has plans for a doubling of the size of its simulation lab at the Brenau East facility. It has four rooms and plans call for making that eight.
Starich said the simulation expansion “would be like a hospital environment.” It would include a birthing suite, pediatrics room, acute patient care, neonatal and ICU care.
“It’d be nice to have it in the next year or so,” Starich said, adding, “It’s an expensive proposition.”
Starich noted simulation labs started with airline pilot training and has expanded to other fields.
“We want them to crash the plane here rather than in the real world,” she said.
The current lab has a human simulator that was one of the first in the state for a nursing school, David Morrison, vice president of communications and publications, said.
Starich noted that most of the lab equipment is “very similar” to that used at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
She said the health sciences program has had “eye-popping” growth — to about 1,400 students. About 1,000 of those are in Gainesville.