St. Kate's says it wants to help meet the growing demand for health care as Minnesota's population ages.
Sister Andrea Lee called it perhaps the most important initiative she will lead as the president of the College of St. Catherine.
On Tuesday morning, Lee announced to faculty and staff that St. Kate's will open a School of Health, expanding a health education program that dates to the late 1800s. The school's board of trustees unanimously approved the move at a meeting last week.
The hope is that the school will provide quality graduates in areas where demand for trained workers is great, including in areas in which the school doesn't currently have programs. At the same time, St. Kate's wants its teaching approach to be more integrated than at most schools nationally.
As a result, an emphasis will be placed on teaching students how to work in teams made up of individuals from several disciplines and care that centers on patients.
"We're in a critical situation with health care in Minnesota," Lee said. "We have a changing population, an aging population of baby boomers, and we have demographic changes.
"We have a responsibility here, we have the capacity and we have the will."
While St. Kate's is very much a liberal arts institution for women -- something Lee said won't change -- only the University of Minnesota produces more health profession graduates annually. The school said more than 11,000 of its graduates are health care workers currently employed in the state.
St. Kate's already offers 21 health care programs, where about 40 percent of its students study. Six more programs, ranging from a graduate program in transition nursing to a doctorate in occupational therapy, are in the development stage. Eighteen more programs have been proposed.
"We think we have a lot to offer," Lee said.
Many details of the new school, from finding faculty to exactly what programs will be offered and what it will cost are still in development.
College of St. Catherine officials had been quietly working on the expansion of health education for nearly two years, before the University of St. Thomas' recent announcement that it is considering opening a small medical school.
St. Kate's already has in place a council of advisers that includes health care leaders, from the Twin Cities and from Catholic-based health systems across the country. The school already has partnerships for its current programs with hospitals and clinics in the Twin Cities and has begun seeking agreements with Catholic partners.
David Page, the retiring president and CEO of Fairview Health Services, approves of this new direction for St. Kate's.
"The move away from just the pieces, the mosaic of patchwork quilt health care and going to a continuum is exactly what the [health care] industry needs," said Page, one of St. Kate's advisers and a member of the school's board of trustees. "For instance, in patient safety, we're learning that one of the key elements of having good, safe medical care is a team concept.
"[The plan] is unique, it's forward-thinking."
St. Kate's officials hope the expansion of health care offerings will have a positive effect on the liberal arts college of 5,200 students based in St. Paul.
"As our profile and reputation grows, we hope we will be more attractive to the undergraduate population," Lee said.
Jeff Shelman 612-673-7478