Should a catastrophe occur, Knoxville is the best place to be.

Created in 2005, UT is the first and only university to offer the Global Disaster Nursing Program. An innovative graduate degree that trains nurses to manage disastrous events, the program educates students on how to navigate natural disasters, man-made disasters, large-scale public health emergencies and humanitarian relief.

Program director, Susan Speraw, Ph.D. and RN, believes the program addresses the rising need for nurses with the ability to not only care for victims, but act as knowledgeable leaders.

"Our objective is to produce interdisciplinary professionals who are able to be leaders in response, policy development, education," Speraw said. "We're not focused just on disaster just in the United States. We're aiming to prepare our students to respond in a broader context."

Clinical professor, Moriah McArther affirmed this statement, saying many graduates serve abroad after completing their training.

"We have students that work internationally as their career," McArther said. "We have some students that work internationally on more of a short-term basis on mission trips or shorter assignments abroad, and then we have a lot of students that do disaster management stuff domestically, so it kind of covers all bases."

Unique to UT alone, Speraw places great emphasis on the program's singular qualities.

"We're the only program of our kind, especially those that offer a doctoral degree, anywhere in the country that we know of. There are some other masters programs that exist in disaster management and things like that."

Using a combination of classroom learning, simulation exercises and fieldwork experiences, students are taught how to plan for mass casualty events, mitigate the effects of threats, teach disaster preparedness in an educational setting and much more.

"We teach students about a variety of hazards," Speraw said. "They're going to come across hazardous environments and dangerous situations of all types. We teach them things that people think of as terrorism-related, like hazardous chemicals.

"We also teach them about ideology and radical thinking that shapes terrorism. We teach them about different cultures and we have them examine their own (biases) and their own beliefs in relationship to cultures around the world. "

As a relatively new course, the Global Disaster Nursing Program is just beginning to receive national recognition. Speraw was recently invited to attend the Federal Emergency Management Agency Think Tank forum held at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Sept. 25. The forum was broadcast across the country.

"Our participation was invited because we have managed to create unique, one-of-a-kind educational programs in Global Disaster Nursing that draw together students and faculty from completely different colleges and departments such as Architecture, Law Enforcement Innovation and Environmental Engineering," Speraw said.

Prospective students must complete an application for both the University of Tennessee's Graduate School and the University of Tennessee's College of Nursing. Prerequisites include a competitive GPA, 3 credit hours of graduate level statistics, a GRE score from within the last five years and a TOEFL score of 550 or higher.

The director said they look for applicants with a high tolerance for uncertainty.

"When you're going into a disaster event you never actually know what you're getting into," Speraw said. "We are looking for people who have the capacity to be very flexible and adjust to circumstances in a hurry and not be bothered by that."

Speraw also noted that compassion is crucial.

"I think all of the students that we get are particularly interested in vulnerable people," Speraw said. "They're really drawn to that kind of work. They all have a high degree of commitment to advocacy, to helping people who don't really have a voice."

Lisa Davenport, who recently received her Ph.D. in Global Disaster Nursing, said the program exposed her to a burgeoning line of work, putting her on the cutting edge of nursing education and emergency strategy.

"The program has really broadened my knowledge of disaster management, and that includes preparation, response and recovery," Davenport said. "It has opened many doors for me and really helped me recognize where education is needed, not only to the general public but for health care professionals as well."

This degree offers MSN, Ph.D. and DNP degrees as well as a Post-Master's certificate. More information is available here.