• Post category:NEWS / Schools

Amid a nationwide shortage of nurses, and in anticipation of a long-term demand for more health care workers, the University of Saint Thomas plans to open a new nursing program next fall on its Saint Paul campus.

The university’s Morrison Family College of Health School of Nursing has begun accepting applications for 100 openings in its undergraduate and graduate programs. The school will be housed in the Summit Classroom Building (located just west of McNeely Hall), which is now undergoing a renovation that includes the construction of a third-floor simulation laboratory. The university’s social work program will share the building.

MayKao Hang, vice president and founding dean of the College of Health, said the university began planning the nursing program even before COVID-19 hit. “When we were looking at the needs for nursing in the community, it was already clear that we needed to have more nurses to address the shortage in Minnesota,” she said.

UST nusing school
Paul Mellick, chair of the health and exercise science department at the University of Saint Thomas, shows how to record blood pressure with the help of senior Veronica Mahnke during a J-Term class. A school of nursing will soon join the university’s Morrison Family College of Health. Photo by Brad Stauffer

UST had a “blank slate” to develop a different approach than existing nursing programs, Hang said. The new school has a goal of having at least 30 percent of its enrollment consist of students of color or from rural areas where health care access is a significant issue. Instead of having students take rotations at different clinics, UST’s “immersion” model will assign students to a clinic for a longer period, Hang said.

“It puts you in one place for an extended time, so you’re still getting the same content, but you’re parceling it out differently,” Hang said. “It allows the students to have a continuous clinical experience with an organization in a single geographical location.”

“The more we can fill the pipeline, the better,” Scheckel said. “It’s going to take all of us. Having a nursing program at Saint Thomas is certainly in line with our mission to serve the common good.”

UST nusing school
UST senior occupational therapy major Alissa Felmlee and Morrison Family College of Health marketing director Timothy Pate utilize an Anatomage Table in one of the university’s labs. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Saint Thomas will partner with providers such as CentraCare Health in Saint Cloud and Allina Health in the Twin Cities to provide students with that experience. Allina Health and the university plan to develop a clinical home model approach in which students rotate within the provider’s systems and still “get all their learning needs met,” Hang said.

Martha Scheckel, founding director of the nursing school, said the university hopes to attract 50 students each for its four-year bachelor of nursing (BSN) and 20-month master of nursing (MSN) programs. Scheckel said UST believes professionals looking for a new career with a greater purpose will find nursing an attractive option. So far, she said, recruiting has gone well.

“We have significant interest from incoming freshmen for the BSN and we have a fair number of applications coming in for the MSN,” Scheckel said.

She said the program is developing scholarships to help students pay tuition and has completed market studies to ensure its costs align with other similar programs. She said some providers may also offer tuition reimbursement to students who do rotations in their health facilities.

Scheckel, who grew up on an Iowa dairy farm, worked as a nurse for years before becoming an academician. Before joining the Morrison Family College of Health, she served as dean and professor of nursing at Viterbo University in LaCrosse for more than three years. She also chaired Winona State University’s nursing department and worked there earlier in her career.

Now she is engaged in creating a program from the ground up to meet 21st century challenges. Minnesota already has several nursing programs, but Scheckel believes the market can absorb another. Nursing has been among the most frequently asked-for majors at Saint Thomas. Baby boomer nurses have begun retiring in droves, leading to shortages in Minnesota and across the country.

“The more we can fill the pipeline, the better,” Scheckel said. “It’s going to take all of us. Having a nursing program at Saint Thomas is certainly in line with our mission to serve the common good.

“We don’t know what impact the pandemic is going to have, but we hope that it inspires those who are thinking about it to become a nurse,” she continued. “We hope students see it as a call to service.”

—Frank Jossi

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