Tusculum College will offer a Master of Science in nursing degree with a family nurse practitioner concentration in August, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The college was given approval by the Tennessee Board of Nursing on Thursday to move forward in implementing the new degree program, according to a recent news release.

The family nurse practitioner program would be a graduate level Master of Science degree program designed to address the need for more primary health care providers in the community. It would be led by Dr. Linda Garrett, assistant dean of nursing, health sciences and human services and chair of graduate nursing, the release says.

"In East Tennessee, there is a gap between the number of people who need health care and the number of health care providers," said Dr. Lois Ewen, dean of nursing, health sciences and human services. "The nurse practitioner program will help fill that gap in our community."

Garrett said, "Nurse practitioners provide primary care across the lifespan to people of all ages with simple to complex illnesses. We provide care for patients that have comorbidities. We have the same privileges that family physicians have, such as prescribing medications."

Applications for enrollment in the program will be available in late spring. The first class is tentatively set to graduate in fall 2017, the release says.

"One of the things that is very special about this program, especially in this part of the country, is that we plan to develop an RN to MSN program, which will allow nurses with associate degrees to obtain their master's degree in six semesters," Garrett said.

With this bridge component, Ewen hopes to serve more nurses in the area and serve the community with quality advanced practice nurses, the release says. The nurse practitioner program will be housed in the Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Math and Science, where the students will have access to state-of-the-art equipment specialized for the degree.

"The Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Math and Science will provide students with a lab separate from the lab for the undergraduate program," Garrett said. "The undergraduate lab is styled like a hospital, (but) the nurse practitioner labs will be designed much like a typical medical office with high technological recording capabilities."

Garrett hopes to work with the theater program at Tusculum and have people trained as "standardized patients." These standardized patients would act as real patients through scenarios developed by the nursing faculty in order to assist nurse practitioner students in patient interaction and diagnosis.

"We are excited to have Dr. Garrett on our team," Ewen said. "She has served as a leader, an educator and a nurse, and brings a tremendous amount of experience in developing successful nursing programs to Tusculum College."

Garrett said, "My vision is to provide the community with primary care providers -- this is an area of need -- to provide the folks in this community access to good quality care and to get the nurse practitioner program going and graduating students."

Individuals with interest in attending the family nurse practitioner program should contact the nursing department at nursing@tusculum.edu or 423-636-7430 for more information.

Tusculum College is now accepting applications for admission into the college, the release says.