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New programs aim to head off shortages, boost nurses’ educational levels in a complex health-care world.

With nurses in America aging, there’s a great need for the nation’s – and the state’s – nursing schools to produce the next generation. Wisconsin’s nursing educators are deeply involved in doing just that.

There’s also a need for nurses with more advanced training; nursing schools are at work on this front, too, adding graduate programs to supply future nursing leaders.

• Concordia University School of Nursing

“The biggest issue facing us right now is that Wisconsin needs more nurses of all educational levels,” says Dr. Sharon Chappy, dean of the Concordia University School of Nursing. According to a 2014 survey, she says, 46 percent of Wisconsin registered nurses are over the age of 50. Only 11 percent hold a master’s degree and less than 1 percent have doctoral degrees.

Chappy says nursing schools across the country are working to increase enrollments to meet the demand, but “nurse educators are also in short supply.”

And there’s also a need for advanced-practice nurses, she says. “Currently only 4 percent of all RNs in Wisconsin are certified as advanced-practice nurses,” Chappy says. “And, as more Americans have access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, more nurses and advanced-practice nurses are needed to meet health care needs.”

The Institute of Medicine has recommended 80 percent of nurses have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree by 2020, Chappy says. Concordia offers an online BSN completion program for nurses with associate degrees. In fall 2016, it will start admitting BSN students twice a year, instead of just once, and it also offers master’s level nurse practitioner programs and a doctor of nursing practice program for advanced-practice nurses and advanced-level administrators.

• Milwaukee School of Engineering

Dr. Debra Jenks, president and dean of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s School of Nursing, sees those statistics as a challenge for both nursing schools and employers of nurses.

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MSOE launched its first master’s program in nursing in Fall 2014, and the first three students are slated to graduate in May. “It is a combination of core nursing leadership courses and core MBA content,” Jenks says, so it’s a collaborative effort between the School of Nursing and MSOE’s Rader School of Business – an approach that came out of consultations with nurse executives from the area, she says. “There’s a business component to health care,” she points out.

As for wider trends, she says, “There is a real strong push nationally around the nursing workforce issue.”

And who will make up the next generation of nurses?

“We’re seeing a real change in the demographics of our students,” she says. “We’re seeing a lot more career changers, and we’re seeing more people with bachelor’s degrees in other fields entering nursing. In large part they’re looking for ‘a career where I can make a difference.’”

• Columbia College of Nursing

Columbia College of Nursing is another school expanding its teaching with a graduate program. Previously serving just undergraduates and graduating 80 to 100 nursing students a year, the school has added a master’s degree in Clinical Nurse Leadership, with its first class finishing in December 2015.

Dr. Jill Berg, the college’s president and dean, says the CNL specialty focuses on improving quality and safety in the profession. For example, one of Columbia’s recent graduates worked with a department at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Milwaukee to track and improve the number of patients discharged before 2 p.m., another worked on improving patient satisfaction with pain management and another project involved prevention of falls. All three projects improved standardized ratings in the departments where the students worked, Berg says.

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Though the program started with just four students, says Berg, “We certainly intend for it to grow. We purposely started out small to make sure we could make improvements to curriculum as we went along.” With those improvements in place, she said, the school aims to start a class of about 16 students in January 2017.

• Columbia Center Birth Hospital

One place that will be in the market for this new generation of nurses is Columbia Center Birth Hospital. The state’s only specialty birth hospital is nursing-intensive. Women who give birth there generally have one-on-one care throughout their labor, says Candy Casey, CEO. The hospital is on the campus of Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee.

The hospital has eight doulas on staff, professionals trained to support patients through the labor process. The hospital pays most of the cost for the doulas.

The importance of nursing at the birth hospital is underlined by the background of Casey herself, who spent years working as a nurse with women and infants. Of the birth hospital, she says: “We have a very tenured staff – over 20 years is our average tenure, and they provide exceptional support for the natural process of birth.”

But that experienced staff may mean that retirements loom, and the state’s nursing schools are getting ready for that.

“We hope that our efforts, along with those of the other top nursing schools in the area,” says Concordia’s Chappy, “will fill the gap in the nursing workforce that lies ahead of us with top-notch, well-prepared nurses at all educational levels.”

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