nursing students

May 14, 2020

SIU Carbondale Nursing program earns approval to begin this fall

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale gained final approval to begin its nursing program when fall 2020 semester classes start in August.

Based upon a recommendation by the Illinois State Board of Nursing, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation approved the program on May 8. Program officials anticipate that the undergraduate program will annually provide training for about 300 students once fully implemented over a four-year period. The goal is to offset the nursing shortage within the region.

Kelli D. Whittington, nursing program director, said 54 students will be a part of this fall’s inaugural class. Pre-nursing students were able to enroll in the new Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program in fall 2019, taking core classes. The program is within the new School of Health Sciences.

The university received Illinois Board of Higher Education approval to create the program in August 2019, but there were additional approvals needed before startup. Whittington’s first responsibility after being hired was presenting the program’s feasibility study to the state nursing board in early January. After receiving curriculum approval in March, there was a virtual program site visit on May 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whittington said she has “immense gratitude to the many individuals that have pulled together as a team in a tangible way that will directly impact our region.”

The program will feature three separate tracks:

  • Traditional BSN four-year program: This track is for incoming freshmen who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Students will also earn a minor in health care management. There were more than 100 completed qualified applications for the program.
  • RN to BSN degree completion: This track is for registered nurses who have an associate degree and want to earn a bachelor’s degree. As with the traditional four-year program, these students may also earn a minor in health care management through online courses. This program will begin with the spring 2021 semester.
  • Accelerated BSN track: The accelerated track is for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a different field or who have 70 to 80 credit hours completed toward a bachelor’s degree along with prerequisite courses. Coursework in this track will be completed within 12 months. This program is expected to begin in fall 2021.

Program development focused on several goals

Whittington noted that the development of the program has been consciously designed. Included among the goals:

  • Meeting the needs of employers by developing the skill sets essential for an entry-level BSN prepared registered nurse.
  • Fulfilling the requirements of the RN skills sets identified by the Illinois Board of Nursing.
  • Utilizing the National Council of Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) blueprint to maximize student success within the program and national licensure exams.
  • Following The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice to establish a quality program.

Still much to do

Work this summer will be to ensure all lab supplies are organized and lab equipment is set up to include manikin placement, cloud simulation storage, and medication administration system training. The program will also submit an accreditation application to The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education -- a voluntarily sought accreditation “designed to demonstrate to the public the professional quality of our curriculum and delivery,” Whittington said.

Southern Illinois Healthcare last year pledged up to $1 million to start undergraduate nursing program and up to another $470,000 toward doctoral programs in occupational therapy and physical therapy under development. SIH also assisted in curriculum development.  While in the program, students will conduct their clinical training in SIH as well as other local facilities. Scott Collins, director of the School of Health Sciences, said the plan is to reach out to all of the local health care institutions in the region, including southeast Missouri, to see if they are interested in working with students.

Pandemic highlights need for nurses

Nationwide, the job outlook anticipates a 12 percent increase in the nursing workforce and nearly 372,000 additional jobs by 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency outlook notes that rate is much faster than average.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that nurses are essential workers that are constantly needed and able to provide patient care to the most vulnerable members of our society, especially in times of crisis,” Whittington said.

Humbled by her profession

Whittington began her nursing career as a BSN prepared nurse in 1992 and with the degree, which was uncommon in the region at the time, she began teaching nursing clinicals for a community college in 1993. Her experience includes working as a nurse in medical/surgical, ICU, home health, and management/administration, and has taught at all levels of nursing education.

The unique opportunity to “impact the lives of students that are pursuing a dream to be a nurse” is humbling, she said.

Designing a simulation lab from the ground up has been both challenging and rewarding, Whittington said. The course delivery will be current and relevant.

”Our program is shaped in such a way that the students will be very active in the learning process, focusing on the development of clinical judgment rather than the memorization of factual knowledge,” Whittington said. “COVID-19 provides us with a unique opportunity to demonstrate this on our very first day of class.  Using this pandemic, our students will examine issues of social determinants of health, the use of data to drive care delivery, and equity, all while discussing the respiratory system.”

Other IBHE approved programs on track

Collins said accreditation paperwork is in the process for the two other IBHE-approved doctoral programs occupational therapy and physical therapy.  Occupational therapy could be offered in 2022 and physical therapy in 2023, Collins said. Professionals in both those fields are also in very high demand and the forecast is for a high growth, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The doctorate programs are designed for students who are certified occupational therapist assistants, physical therapist assistants, other allied health professionals, as well as general admission candidates. The curriculum will be offered as a three-year, weekend on-site program with online work also required.

For more information on the nursing program, contact Kijoung Na, an academic adviser in the School of Health Sciences or Robert Broomfield, allied health specialist, at 618/453-7211.