New degree aims at improving newborn care


Groundbreaking UIndy-IU collaboration will put graduate students on front lines with top doctors & the most challenging intensive-care patients

Amid the growing need to provide intensive care for newborn infants, the University of Indianapolis, the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health are collaborating on a new UIndy master’s degree program—the only one of its kind in the state. The Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program will begin this fall with a mix of classroom instruction, online studies, and clinical work in local health care facilities, leading to a specialized Master of Science in Nursing degree. The program is designed for working nurses. Instructors will include active pediatricians and nurse practitioners.

Hands-on training and observation will take place at Wishard Hospital, IU Health University Hospital, and Riley’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the largest such unit in the state and one of the top-ranked NICUs in the nation, staffed by leading physicians in the field.

Filling a gap in care

“For the students to have access to those kinds of clinical experiences is unprecedented,” said Anne Thomas, School of Nursing dean. “These new nurse practitioners will be thoroughly prepared to fill the gap in communities that simply don’t have enough neonatal physicians to meet the demand.”

Neonatal intensive-care patients range from generally healthy newborns with minor concerns to more serious cases involving extremely premature babies and those born with congenital anomalies requiring extensive surgery and therapy. Cheri Walkosak, director of neonatal nurse practitioners for the IU School of Medicine, said she needs a continual influx of new talent to maintain her staff of 50 nurse practitioners at Riley Hospital. Nurse practitioners not only provide direct patient care but also help train nurses, therapists, and other health care workers in the preferred practices.

The demand for such expertise has increased with the establishment of NICUs in South Bend, Fort Wayne, Evansville, Lafayette, Bloomington, and elsewhere around the state, Walkosak said. The various local health care systems are providing services closer to home for families that otherwise would have traveled to Indianapolis for medical care. She and her colleagues at Riley are enthusiastic about participating in the new degree program and fostering a new generation of well-prepared health professionals for Indiana.

“We really have a passion for this kind of care, and that’s why our nurse practitioners and our doctors are investing their time,” Walkosak said. “We’re going to teach our own.”

The new NNP program joins other UIndy partnerships with local health care systems, including a bachelor’s degree in nursing for Hendricks Regional Health, bachelor’s and master’s programs for Franciscan St. Francis Health, and associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees for IU Health. The programs help working nurses and health care staffers to advance their careers, often through classes conducted away from the University campus, at the facilities where the students work.