Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing is doing its best to provide the area with much-needed nurses through an accelerated course that puts nurses in the work force in a year instead of the traditional five-semester time frame.
The first 23 participants in the course are set to graduate this month, with 24 students planned for the next course.
“They were a pretty exceptional group,” said Phyllis Gendler, dean of the Kirkhof College of Nursing. “A little older, more diverse.”
Students in the program already have bachelor’s degrees, Gendler said, but not necessarily in a field related to nursing. Those who have degrees in vastly different fields may need to take pre-requisites such as anatomy and physiology before being chosen for the program. The students receive bachelor’s of science degrees in nursing.
Because the program is full-time and additional jobs are discouraged, the students receive a stipend, which Gendler said is of significant help to the students, some of whom have dependents.
During the course, the nursing students study and take part in 10 different clinical situations, which take place throughout the community, including hospitals, nursing homes and schools. They also are paired with an elderly person through the Community Longitudinal Elderly Initiative, where they get an idea of what a healthy elderly person is like compared to those who have illnesses. Throughout the course, the nursing students study content that corresponds with the specific clinical experience they are having.
Linda Scott, associate professor of nursing, said she expects the same outcome from the accelerated students as from traditional students.
“The intensity of the program is much higher, but the rigor is the same and the outcomes should be the same,” she said.
“I think that I’ve been very pleased with our first experience with it,” Scott said. “Our goal is to help educate quality nurses. … This is another mechanism that helps us fulfill our mission.”
Scott said during a given week, students have at least five days that are committed to theory or clinical work, making it difficult to maintain outside jobs. The best students for the program are the ones who understand the demands of the course’s immersion, Scott said.
She said the program has given her an opportunity to try new teaching methods, including recording lectures and creating downloadable files for students to use for review purposes. “It gives us a way where the material can be there; they can re-listen to it on their own time,” she said.
Gendler said the accelerated program was made possible due to an initiative from the state of Michigan — the Accelerated Health Care Training Grant — that gave the college $1.2 million in grants over a two-year period to fund programs that put nurses and nursing instructors into the work force more quickly.
Spectrum Health has partnered with the college to provide clinical experience to the students, said Keverne Lehman, director of nursing practice, education and research at Spectrum Health.
“These kinds of students bring a wealth of experience already,” she said.
Lehman said she hopes the students will have a positive experience at Spectrum and will see what the health care organization has to offer.
“We hope by that exceptional experience to be able to encourage them to work for us,” she said. “We are always looking for good applicants.”
Gendler said the graduating students should have no trouble finding employment.
“Our students are 100 percent employable; they have no trouble (finding jobs),” she said.
With 64 students graduating each semester in the traditional nursing program at GVSU, Gendler said the school graduates more than 200 students per year who are ready to sit for the nursing license.
“We’ve kind of kept the shortage at bay, but it’s getting worse,” she said.
Gendler said it would be difficult to increase the number of students without more faculty members. But she is considering expanding the accelerated program to get more students out of the program faster.
She said there was not a lot of interest in nursing in the 1980s and 1990s, with applicant pools down even into the late 1990s. In 2000, Gendler said, there was a sudden increase in interest.
“Nursing became a popular field again,” she said. “People don’t realize it until they need care, then they really get it.” HQX