To help address the shortage of nurses in the state of Utah, the University of Utah College of Nursing will increase enrollment in its prelicensure track by 25% over the next year. College leaders say this increase addresses the rising need for registered nurses in the wake of COVID-19 and because of other factors that are reshaping the nursing profession.
“This initiative is a major undertaking, and it is the right thing to do given the contemporary challenges we face,” says Michael Good, CEO of University of Utah Health. “It’s vital that we educate, train and deploy enough nurses in Utah and elsewhere in the Mountain West to provide the health care that residents of this region have come to expect and deserve. This new approach to nursing education will be beneficial to all. I am grateful to our nursing faculty for proactively addressing this challenge.”
To meet this commitment, U of U Health’s College of Nursing will accept an additional 36 prelicensure students each year, increasing its annual enrollment from 144 to 180 students. In the past, the College of Nursing accepted 72 students for either spring or fall semester enrollment. Now the college will accept 60 students three times a year by adding the option of summer semester enrollment.
The college will commit more than $400,000 per year to achieve this goal. Additional personnel devoted to this increase in students will include full-time faculty and adjunct faculty, a student advisor, a clinical placement coordinator, and patient simulation specialists, says Marla De Jong, dean of the College of Nursing.
“It’s important that people in Utah, as well as the rest of the country, have an adequate number of nurses to meet their health care needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” says De Jong. “We are trying to graduate more registered nurses to meet the growing demand and, in particular, ensure that there are enough nurses in Utah to provide quality care for patients now and in the future.”
The change comes at a time when the profession is facing a potentially crippling shortage of nurses nationwide. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 176,000 new job openings a year for registered nurses through 2029.
In Utah alone, more than 2,500 registered nursing positions are currently unfilled, according to De Jong. This gap is particularly striking given that 88% of College of Nursing graduates live and work in Utah. It is also one of the major reasons the college is expanding its enrollment, she adds.
The severity of the shortfall hit home earlier this month, when 20 U.S. Navy medical personnel, including 14 nurses, were deployed to University of Utah Hospital to help alleviate staffing shortages that had kept 52 beds out of service. The shortage led the hospital to defer hundreds of surgeries and limit acceptance of transfers from outlying hospitals.
However, this short-term solution will not resolve the long-term problem, according to Melody Krahulec, assistant dean for Undergraduate Programs at the College of Nursing. Long hours, physical stress and mental strain have taken their toll on nurses for decades, leading many of them to leave the profession. The COVID-19 pandemic has merely exacerbated that trend, with perhaps as many as one in five considering leaving nursing within the next two years.
Add to this that almost one in five Utah nurses are approaching retirement age, and the future of health care in the state could be challenging. “That’s why an influx of a new generation of highly trained and competent registered nurses is vital,” says De Jong.
“We can’t unilaterally solve the nursing shortage,” De Jong adds. “We’re fully aware that a 25% increase in our enrollment will barely put a dent in it. But we care about the people of Utah who need health care, and we’re doing our best to be responsive.”
In addition to new faculty, the College of Nursing will be seeking additional preceptors in community hospitals and clinics to oversee the 900 hours of clinical experience required for each nursing student prior to graduation.
“We’re grateful to our health care partners within the Salt Lake Valley for doing their best to accommodate the experiential aspects of our nursing education,” says Krahulec. “As we expand, their continued support in providing clinical placements that ensure our students are exposed to a multitude of caregiving situations is fundamental.”
Enrollment for the Summer 2022 Semester has been filled, and the Fall 2022 Semester application cycle is closed. Spring 2023 Semester applications are due by Sept. 1, 2022, and fall 2023 applications are due by Feb. 1, 2023. The deadline for summer 2023 applications will be announced soon.
Doug Dollemorescience writer, University of Utah Health
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