Nursing Schools Treat Market With Growth

October 1, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Two local colleges are increasing the number of high-demand nurses they are training this fall.

The University of Detroit-Mercy’s bachelor of science in nursing education program at Aquinas College boosted capacity from 32 to 50 students, while Davenport University is inaugurating a BSN program with 30 students.

“We are graduating a good number of nurses, but we’re not able to graduate enough to take care of the numbers that are going to be retiring or the increased numbers we are going to need,” said Carole Stacy, director of the Michigan Center for Nursing. “We have a ways to go on that.”

Still, local nursing programs are working toward expanding opportunities for the many potential students lining up at their doors. In 2001, West Michigan registered nursing programs graduated a total of 295, and by last year that had gone up to 578, said Marilyn Smidt, director of nursing programs at Grand Rapids Community College.

Davenport University this fall enrolled students in the second phase of its new nursing programs in Grand Rapids, said Denise M. Oleske, dean of the School of Health Professions. Last year, the Grand Rapids-based university that has 17 campuses across Michigan launched a local program that allows registered nurses to complete a BSN. This year, Davenport added a four-year, pre-licensure bachelor’s of science in nursing for the Grand Rapids campus, Oleske said. The 30 slots were quickly filled, she added. An additional 10 registered nurses are enrolled in the BSN completion program.

“When you look at all the health care enterprise that is being built in western Michigan, this enterprise will require nursing manpower,” Oleske said. “There is a lot of anticipated growth in the Grand Rapids area.”

She said the local program secured five full-time faculty members and 33 clinical sites from Lansing to Muskegon, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. Oleske said she anticipates hiring adjunct faculty, as well.

Davenport also offers nursing options at campuses in Dearborn, Midland and Warren, in which students may complete a one-year program to sit for the licensed practical nurse program and then could opt for another year of training for an associate’s degree and eligibility for the registered nurse designation.

For eight years, Aquinas College has hosted a bachelor of science nursing program in conjunction with University of Detroit-Mercy and Saint Mary’s Health Care. The program has had a waiting list for each of the past four years. But this fall, according to program chair Robi Thomas, the program expanded from 32 to 50 admission slots.

Thomas said the program had to prove to the Michigan Board of Nursing that there is both demand and the capacity to meet that demand.

“We had to demonstrate there was an interest based on the number of applications every year. We had to document we would have classroom space and the resources to meet the increased numbers, the clinical sites to meet increased numbers,” Thomas said.

She said that, previously, applicants who met the criteria were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. But that has changed. Applicants now compete with each other based on their qualifications.

“This year, for the first time, we started pooling applicants, making it a little more competitive,” Thomas said. “We pretty much make our decisions in February.”

While the students do clinical work at health facilities across the community, the program has a close relationship with Saint Mary’s, particularly for medical-surgical and women’s health, she added.

Calvin College has 120 junior and senior nursing students, who are admitted to the program after two years of pre-nursing study, said Mary Molewyk Doornbos, department chair. Until 2002, Calvin and Hope colleges ran a joint nursing program, she said.

“We are actively considering whether we might, in coming years, be able to expand just a little bit further,” Doornbos said. But, like other programs, Calvin must grapple with a shortage of faculty, classroom and lab space on campus, and places where the students can gain hands-on, clinical experience.

Grand Valley State University, which is set to welcome a new nursing dean in November, is running at capacity, said outgoing Dean Phyllis Gendler. GVSU admits 64 nursing students three times per year, plus this year graduated 23 from a program for people who already have bachelor’s degrees in other subjects but would like to join the nursing ranks.

The university intends to phase out training for nurse practitioners and add a doctorate program, Gendler said. By 2015, she said, the nurse practitioner board exam is going to demand a doctorate and GVSU has a goal of preparing students.

GRCC offers a one-year program for licensed practical nursing and a two-year associate’s degree to become a registered nurse, Smidt said. She said GRCC is aiming to make the first semester classes the same for both programs to allow for greater flexibility for students and faculty.

“I think that our colleges and universities have really stepped up to the plate,” added Stacy.

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