Shenandoah University and Inova Partner to Extend Graduate Programs in Northern Virginia

Shenandoah University and Inova Partner to Extend Graduate Programs in Northern Virginia

In February, Shenandoah University and Inova signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand graduate health education programs in Northern Virginia and strengthen the regional workforce. The partnership will bring Shenandoah’s nationally known graduate programs in occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT) and physician assistant (PA) studies to the university’s Northern Virginia Campus in Ashburn, Va., near Inova Loudoun Hospital. 

This is not the first collaboration between the two organizations. Shenandoah and Inova collaborated in 2008 to expand the university’s second-degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the Northern Virginia Campus. With Inova’s help, the university plans to renovate space in its Ashburn facility to house the expanding graduate programs. 

“Inova and Shenandoah University have collaborated productively for many years, beginning with our nursing and respiratory care programs,” said President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. “The addition of our OT, PA and PT programs seems a natural progression of our mutual commitment to professional health care education in Northern Virginia. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Inova, and I look forward to a collaboration that will prepare our students with the outstanding resources and clinical experiences they need to serve as health care providers in the Northern Virginia region.” 

For its part, Inova will provide $3.2 million in seed money to start up the programs, build a six-table cadaver lab and lease space for up to two years. It will also provide clinical and rotational experiences for students enrolled in these programs. Through this partnership, Shenandoah and Inova will seek to create a pipeline for allied health students studying at the Northern Virginia Campus directly into employment—including jobs within Inova’s integrated network of hospitals and outpatient care facilities. 

“This is a win-win for both organizations, for future students, for graduating professionals and for the communities and patients that we serve,” commented Inova CEO Knox Singleton. “Shenandoah is a highly regarded university, especially in the area of health care education. Given Inova’s commitment to improving the health of our community through excellence in education and research, we’re excited about this collaboration’s impact on the ongoing development of health care professionals now and in the future.” 

The curriculum, subject to approval by the appropriate accreditation associations, will begin with a limited number of OT and PT students in the fall of 2014. As the effort builds with respect to enrollment, it is anticipated that by August 2015, Shenandoah will absorb the full cost of the programs. 

Providing Health Education at the Top of Virginia 

Shenandoah’s health professions programs began 50 years ago through the university’s partnership with Valley Health System (now Valley Health) in the co-development of Shenandoah’s nursing program. Over the years, collaboration between the two organizations grew with the demand for these programs, helping Shenandoah establish highly competitive programs in nursing, respiratory care, pharmacy, OT, PA and PT. 

“The opportunity to expand our OT, PA and PT programs into Loudoun County in partnership with Inova is only possible because of our long-term partnership in Winchester with Valley Health,” said Fitzsimmons. “Because of Valley Health’s vision and support that began decades ago, we were able to initiate and build these highly respected graduate health care programs that have, over time, grown in size, reputation and quality. 

“Similarly, we would not be able to expand those programs east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and into Northern Virginia if it weren’t for the vision, financial support and clinical rotations of Inova,” said Fitzsimmons. “They have been terrific in stepping up and saying ‘You think that’s important to do? We think that’s important to do, as well.’ So, Inova and Shenandoah are partnering on this initiative, and we couldn’t do it without their help, just as we wouldn’t have been able to start the programs in the first place, if it had not been for Valley Health.” 

“Our relationship with Shenandoah University, as well as that of Valley Health, has always proven substantive and collaborative,” observed Singleton. “Together, we are committed and privileged to optimize the health and well-being of each individual we serve in our respective communities.” 

A New Model for Health Care Education 

As the national health care debate continues, Shenandoah and its health care partners will be creating in Virginia what Shenandoah University Trustee Janell Good Hoffman, RN, BSN, ’91, ’93, describes as a new health care paradigm. 

“Shenandoah, Inova and Valley Health are innovating to create an education model that’s compatible with the nation’s developing health care delivery model,” said Hoffman. “It’s a new model based on preventive care that will revolutionize how health care is delivered throughout the United States. 

“No one knows what this education model will look like,” she continued, “because we don’t know how the health care delivery model will evolve in the future. It’s foreign territory. That’s why these partnerships are so important to us and why it’s imperative that all the players work together.”

World-Class Learning Environment

Inova offers a world-class learning environment for clinical instruction in Northern Virginia. As a not-for-profit health care system located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, it serves more than two million people with more than 1,853 licensed beds. Inova consists of five hospitals, including the area’s only Level 1 Trauma Center and Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care unit. It encompasses many health services, including the nationally and internationally recognized Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (IHVI), Inova Translational Medicine Institute (ITMI) on Genomics, Inova Neuroscience Institute and Inova Children’s Hospital.

In its Vision 2015 statement, Inova seeks to reinvent hospital-based care to increase value for its patients; look outside its hospitals to build an integrated network of providers and programs to support its community; and gain national and international recognition and funding—as well as an expanded patient base—through world-renowned specialty care and leading-edge corporate and consumer health programs.

Senior Vice President of Human Resources Angie Mannino said Inova’s standards for quality, discipline and safety reflect a diverse culture that puts patients first and focuses on creating the best patient experiences possible.

“In their clinical rotations at Inova, Shenandoah students can gain real-world experience across a variety of disciplines and service models,” said Mannino. “One year, a student might do a clinical rotation in an ambulatory setting. The following year, a student might return for a more intensive rotation in outpatient services; but while they’re here, they’ll learn Inova policies and procedures. As they move around the system, the administrative standards will remain the same, but various settings will allow them to focus on clinical experiences with skilled preceptors and clinicians. That’s a great way to learn.”

Role of Clinical Training

According to Karen Abraham, PT, Ph.D., director of Shenandoah’s Division of Physical Therapy, clinical training is essential for preparing health care students for professional practice.

“Health care education includes both a didactic component and hands-on clinical training,” she explained. “We need clinical partners to help us train our students. They offer us access to real patients. They also share a similar vision and a commitment to providing the highest level of patient care. The best way to move health care forward is to train future health care professionals.”

Although demand for skilled health professionals in the workforce continues to increase, the mounting financial and political pressures affecting health care can also limit access to clinical training sites for degree programs.

“It’s becoming more difficult for academic programs to secure clinical experiences for their students,” explained Dr. Abraham. “Health systems manage the demands for productivity and bottom-line results with taking on the additional responsibilities required to train health care students. The fact that Inova is willing to work with Shenandoah and continue to take our students into clinical rotations speaks volumes about their commitment to the profession.

“By offering access to clinical sites and rotations, they’re making a considerable investment in educating a skilled workforce in Northern Virginia,” said Abraham. “It shows they recognize that investing in students and making sure that they are well trained helps us all. It helps the consumer, it helps the medical team and it helps move everything forward.” 

New Opportunities for Students 

Because Northern Virginia is a more urban environment, it may attract not only traditional students who want to live and work there, but also non-traditional students with families who wish to switch careers. 

“Inova is incredibly forward thinking in terms of how we might partner together,” said Fitzsimmons. “I think Northern Virginia is very lucky to have Inova caring for its community. 

“As we look to the future, we will endeavor to find innovative ways to work jointly with our exceptional health care partners,” said Fitzsimmons. “Inova … Valley Health … and Shenandoah University. I really do believe that together, we will offer the best health care education from the top of Virginia here in the Shenandoah Valley all the way to Washington, D.C.”