Back in March — months before 9/11 — the nation's nursing leaders convened the first meeting of the International Nursing Coalition for Mass Casualty Education. Recognizing that nurses would be on the front lines in the event of a national disaster such as biological warfare — the founders also acknowledged that nurses' traditional education did not prepare them to handle such a crisis. Then terrorists attacked the U.S., and the fledgling initiative moved into high gear.

As Terri Urbano, PhD, a registered nurse and the Coalition's new director, put it when we talked to her in mid-October: “This is a current threat — not a hypothetical future threat. Health care professionals can lead the way in helping the public become more knowledgeable regarding the protections now in place, the relatively low probability of a terrorist attack, etc.”

As associate dean for lifelong learning, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Nashville, Tenn., Urbano sees continuing education as a primary strategy for meeting the unmet training needs of nurses. “Continuing education would serve as the ideal vehicle for getting critical information out to large numbers of practitioners,” she says. “Changes in academic curricula take time.”

The Coalition aims to establish standards for nursing education in emergency response and develop a curriculum for practicing nurses on mass casualty management. Proposed topics range from the clinical — handling nuclear, chemical, and biological agents, and explosive devices — to leadership skills such as how to work with the community, patients, and the media to reduce panic. For nurses in leadership positions, the Coalition will design advanced training in emergency preparedness. Currently, the Coalition is developing face-to-face sessions, and working with instructional designers to develop Web-based courses.

The standards and training will be disseminated through coalition members, which include nursing accreditation and certifying bodies, as well as schools of nursing, says Urbano. Like other bioterrorism efforts, the Coalition has established alliances with other key players such as the CDC. Since 9/11, the Coalition also formalized a consortium with Louisiana State University, which brings its constituency of first responders and vets to the table, and the University of Alabama, which is setting up a physician network, similar to our nursing network, she says.

Whatever barriers there may have been in the past to multidisciplinary cooperation and education, CE providers are putting those aside. Says Urbano, “The events of September 11 have made us all realize the need to work collaboratively for the good of all.”

For more information, contact Urbano at (615) 322-3269, or send email to terri.urbano@mcmail.vanderbilt.edu.