Gonzaga University, well known for championship basketball and excellent academics, has expanded its longstanding family of nursing programs to include a new bachelor’s degree program in efforts to meet a nursing shortage nationwide that is projected to be unprecedented.
The change has significant implications on nursing education in the Inland Northwest.
Last year, Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees approved adding the pre-licensure, upper-division nursing core curriculum to the university’s existing undergraduate pre-nursing curriculum. Gonzaga’s first class of 18 nursing students, which is widely diverse, enrolled in the program in spring semester 2006.
Nationwide, nursing professionals are attempting to recruit students who are more representative of society as a whole – including more ethnic and gender diversity in the profession traditionally dominated by Caucasian women, said Mary Sue Gorski, chair of Gonzaga’s nursing department and an assistant professor of nursing.
“Six of the 18 students in this new program are either of ethnic or gender minority. We feel that the diversity these students bring offers tremendous cultural sensitivity and leadership to the profession,” Gorski said.
The students who complete the new undergraduate nursing curriculum will earn the first bachelor of science in nursing from GU, qualifying them to take the National Council Licensure Examination to become licensed Registered Nurses.
“This change is significant to the Inland Northwest health-care community and to prospective nurses in Washington, Idaho, Montana and elsewhere,” said Mary McFarland, dean of the GU School of Professional Studies. “Nursing exists to meet a societal need and this program educates new nurses to help meet that pressing need.”
The expected nursing shortage was a key factor in developing a statewide strategic plan in 2002 to address the problem. That plan, titled “Washington State Strategic Plan for Nursing: Ensuring a Future Nursing Workforce,” [online at http://www.wsna.org/snas/wa/wnlcplan.pdf] was drafted by the Washington Nursing Leadership Council. The WNLC includes representation from the Council for Nursing Education in Washington State, the Northwest Organization of Nurse Executives, the Washington League for Nursing, the Washington State Nurses Association, and the Washington State Nursing Quality Assurance Commission.
“There is a growing public and professional awareness that current and projected shortages of Registered Nurses directly impacts access to, and quality of, health care,” the document notes. “National studies and state-level demographics indicate that by 2010, the problem will escalate due to a decrease in the size of the overall total workforce and increasing demand for health care services. There is now strong evidence that both current and future nursing shortages are unlike those of the past. New solutions, and more importantly, new partnerships are needed.”
Nationally, a coalition of 60 nursing organizations introduced a strategic plan, “Nursing’s Agenda for the Future,” to help address the complex web of related variables contributing to the national nursing shortages. One of the assumptions in the state strategic plan described the nursing shortage as “a looming public health care crisis that has the potential to erode access to and quality of health care.”
Also, Gonzaga’s new program has been approved by the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Commission and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
“Both bodies commended Gonzaga on its innovative program and exceptional faculty,” McFarland said. “Our curriculum is exceptional and focuses on the quality and safety of care.”
Gonzaga Academic Vice President Stephen Freedman said he is proud that Gonzaga has received approval from all accrediting bodies for the program, which will directly increase Gonzaga’s ability to address social justice and other key mission areas for the university.
“The addition of the pre-licensure nursing program is an example of Gonzaga’s commitment to social justice,” Freedman said. “With the current shortages of nurses, this program will help address this need. Our students will enter their nursing careers from a curriculum based on leadership, faith, justice, ethics, and service. Nursing students will have numerous opportunities to engage in service-learning and their clinical experiences will take them to underserved areas. I congratulate Dr. Mary McFarland, dean of the School of Professional Studies, and all of the nursing faculty on their efforts in getting this program approved.”
McFarland and Gorski recognize that quality nursing programs serve the Spokane region.
“Our commitment is to underserved areas and to produce graduates who will be steeped in ethical decision-making, leadership and the knowledge base of nursing because the alignment between nursing knowledge base, ethics and leadership is going to produce a very unique graduate to work in health care settings,” McFarland said.
“We celebrate the ICN and have utmost respect for their outstanding offerings and for the quality associate degree programs offered through North Idaho College and the Community Colleges of Spokane,” McFarland said. “We’re partners in nursing education with these schools as there remains unmet demand for nursing education. We’re pleased to have a Gonzaga bachelor’s degree program that leads to RN licensing and that is different because it’s focused on Gonzaga’s unique service-oriented mission.”
The change will provide Gonzaga nursing students with a full four years of education emphasizing both the Jesuit educational tradition and the service-learning framework required to complete a professional nursing degree. These elements are expected to enhance the graduates’ leadership skills and their ability to provide values-oriented care to the vulnerable and underserved.
Gonzaga officials emphasize that the university’s new program will provide a partial solution to the nursing shortage. Still, the current capacity of existing nursing programs is inadequate to provide the number of BSN-prepared nurses to replace anticipated vacancies and respond to new needs.
According to a (March 8, 2005) news release from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Despite a significant gain [in nursing school enrollments], more than 32,000 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs last year, including almost 3,000 students who could potentially fill faculty roles” (www.aacn.nche.edu ). These facts also provided some impetus for Gonzaga’s proposal to develop a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to prepare new nurses.
For more information, please call GU nursing Professor Mary Sue Gorski at (509) 323-3587 or Dean of the School of Professional Studies Mary McFarland at 323-3569.