SCSU programs aim to address nursing shortage, increase diversity



Southern Connecticut State University School of Nursing added a new building and a series of programs designed to make it easier for students of diverse backgrounds to enter the workforce, starting this fall.

The new programs aim to create a new generation of nurses that will address the lack of diversity in the workforce and the ongoing shortage of nurses.

Nursing shortage

Beth Beckman, the chief nursing executive for Yale New Haven Health System, said the nursing shortage is something hospitals, other healthcare organizations and universities were expecting and had plans to address. Economic recessions, inadequate support from workplaces and high rates of retirement have historically caused nursing shortages.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are just over three million employed registered nurses nationwide. However, a 2015 study predicted that a third of them would retire by 2030.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shortage by increasing demand. This led to many early retirements due to burnout. Others moved from hospital settings to higher-paying jobs with more time off in other healthcare positions.

“The last two and a half years have probably been the most difficult as it relates to the actual work of the nurses and the impact of the work on the nurse,” Beckman said.

Nia Mote, a registered nurse at Yale New Haven Health’s York Street campus, said the shortage is acutely felt in the emergency department where she works.

In 2020, there were 52,600 employed registered nurses in Connecticut serving over three million people, which is equivalent to 15 available nurses per 1,000 patients.

Mote explained that the emergency department couldn’t turn any patients away or release them until they were well enough to go.

Because of this, nurses are required to care for multiple patients for longer periods of time because there is not enough staff to meet demand.

“You want to have four patient ratios; that would be great,” she said. But the reality is “six to seven patients who are on various spectrums of very sick to really, really, really sick.”

New programs

Southern recently opened a new Health and Human Services building for the nursing school, which allowed the university to increase the number of admitted students. The four-story structure houses a majority of the departments within the school, such as communication disorders, public health, and health systems and innovation.

It also has numerous labs, classrooms and centers that cater to all branches of nursing through the interprofessional healthcare simulation center. It includes modern hospital equipment, six simulated patient rooms, and a home simulation suite.

Southern introduced several programs and initiatives to increase the number of graduates and meet workforce needs.

The Accelerated Career Entry Program (ACE) launched in the fall of 2022. It is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program for those with bachelor’s degrees in other fields looking to switch to a nursing career. It is an intensive one-year program based on the same curriculum as the traditional BSN program, which usually takes four years to complete.

ACE ultimately allows people interested in switching careers to be educated and enter the workforce quickly through an affordable program.

Southern also has a flexible three-year BSN program that hosts classes in the evening and on weekends for students working full time.

To help students who are also parents, Southern opened COMPASS, a drop-in childcare and family resource center for students and faculty with children 12 or younger.

Southern also entered a $5 million partnership with Yale New Haven Health to further open up opportunities for prospective students who may not be able to afford the nursing program, said Dr. Maria D. Krol, the chairperson and associate professor at SCSU’s School of Nursing.

In addition, Yale New Haven Health provides Southern with active working nurses and doctors as instructors.

Yale New Haven Health has similar partnerships with UCONN, Quinnipiac University, Fairfield University and Gateway Community College. Its goal is to break down the financial barriers and capacity issues that limit the number of students admitted into nursing schools.

Over 80,000 nursing school applicants were turned away from bachelor and graduate programs nationwide in 2020. They were rejected because programs lacked qualified faculty, clinical study sites, classroom space and financials.

Beckman estimates that one in every four nursing applicants is accepted into the Connecticut nursing programs.

Addressing lack of diversity and equity

The nursing workforce is predominantly dominated by white women. In Connecticut, 80% of working nurses identify as white. In addition, 92% of the workforce identified as women in 2019.

Krol said that when the nursing workforce doesn’t reflect the population, the ability to provide equitable care is limited. She explained patients of color feel more comfortable and understood when cared for by a nurse of the same background.

Southern is attempting to address the lack of diversity by admitting students based on more than just grades, SAT scores and AP class credits, said Krol. Prior admissions standards eliminated students of color and students from lower-income communities that didn’t have access to that type of education.

Their new approach “really looked at the whole person,” Krol said. “We looked at their grades, where they went to school, any attributes they could bring, and diversity.”

To promote interest in the nursing major, Southern began hosting a yearly summer nursing symposium for rising sophomores and juniors in high school.

Over five days, participants learned practical health tips, engaged with nursing skills, prepared for college and connected with nurses and faculty at Southern and Yale New Haven Health.

Krol said that the symposium is tailored to high school students from low economic backgrounds and communities of color. As part of the symposium, students shadow a nurse of color.

“They say that you can’t see what you can’t be,” Krol said. “Representation matters and for people to see themselves in the role is really important.”

Inclusive learning

Mote graduated from Southern in May and so she’s “disappointed” that she missed out on the new opportunities. Regardless, she is excited to see the new generation of nurses trained in providing equitable care enter the workforce.

Mote transferred to Southern in 2018 after completing prerequisites at Gateway Community College. She was attracted to the Southern nursing school’s affordability and rigorous but flexible courses as she worked full-time as a licensed practical nurse.

She said that Southern’s program teaches students to care for the whole patient, which she considers “the beauty of nursing,” by constantly discussing potential barriers preventing people from accessing healthcare.

Mote said that after completing all of the technical nursing education, many of her classes focused on health disparities.

She remembers that in her first semester, one of the last questions on an exam was, “is healthcare a right or a privilege?” In the following class, the professor spent 45 minutes discussing how healthcare was a right.

“It’s such an intrinsic part of healthcare that you can’t not talk about it in every class and we never shied away from it,” Mote said. “I don’t remember ever having a professor that would be uncomfortable having that conversation.”

Mote also appreciated that several of her professors were actively working in the medical field. She said that since staff and students were on the same metaphorical boat operating in the medical field, connecting and developing camaraderie was easier. This became especially vital during the pandemic as their professors were on the front lines of the crisis and could use personal experience to educate.

However, she said that Southern needs to work on increasing clinical placements for students and providing more financial support.

Although it was a rough three years, Mote said she loved every second. She advises students interested in nursing to prepare themselves for a rigorous time, but reminds them there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I have one of my fellow new co-nurses who is doing one of the programs through Southern and he’s riding the struggle bus. It’s hard,” she said. “You live and breathe the nursing program, but it’s worth it. It’s honestly worth it.”

cvillalonga@record-journal.com203-317-2448

Health Equity Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation by clicking here https://bit.ly/3dtcJdS. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.



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