issue Spring 2021

The Future is Nursing

By Judy Masterson, Photos by Michael R. Schmidt
Several of the key community stakeholders who are helping RFU meet the nursing workforce challenge.

Dr. Sandra Larson was recently appointed interim dean of the planned College of Nursing. Here she reflects on her profession, the crucial role nursing plays in the delivery of care and how the new college will better help RFU meet the needs of its community and nation.

HELIX: Why did you choose a career in nursing?

DR. LARSON: Nursing was a natural choice for me because I love the human connection. Nursing enables you to use your hands, heart and knowledge when caring for those in need. I value and appreciate how that connection, in and of itself, promotes healing and wellness. I also value nursing’s leadership in advancing a holistic approach to the diagnosis and treatment of disease and promotion of wellness. I learned that through nursing I could feed my soul, my spirit, while continuously evolving in my nursing roles and spheres of influence and advocacy.

Sandra Larson, PhD, CRNA, APN, FNAP.

You earned a doctorate in public policy analysis, which influenced CRNA scope of practice. How are you bringing that experience to bear as interim dean?

Policy analysts are trained to analyze and synthesize large bodies of literature, and to apply a rationale as well as a political planning model to the process of understanding issues and developing solutions. My unique expertise in health profession scope-of-practice regulation heightened my understanding that how nursing evolves over time will in part be determined by its ability to gain favorable local, state and federal scope-of-practice regulation. This influences nursing curriculum development across several areas and prioritizes the need to assess and graduate students who are competent to practice at the full scope of their licensure and training.

Our planned College of Nursing will be the first of its kind in northern Lake County. How has the shortage of nurses driven the plan?

The need is great. Our state and our nation are experiencing a tremendous shortage of nurses. Right now, about one-third of nurses in Illinois are over age 55. Registered nurses are 80% of the nursing workforce — boots-on-the-ground folks out in communities, schools and hospital settings delivering one-on-one patient care and advocating for individuals, families and communities. Advanced practice registered nurses and nursing administrators account for most of the remaining 20%. Becker’s Hospital Review, a leading hospital magazine, recently announced its top 25 women advancing in healthcare leadership. More than half are registered nurses. Under Dr. Rheault’s leadership, we’re seizing the opportunity to graduate registered nurses for entry into practice with a master’s degree. We are answering the demand to contribute to building a more highly educated registered nursing workforce that enters into practice at the master’s level, and that is well positioned to contribute to transformation of health care and improvement in patient outcomes and patient satisfaction. We are also building advanced practice nursing tracts that match the community’s needs, beginning with a doctoral degree psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program.

Dr. Larson meets with Northwestern Medicine personnel and other RFU partners in February 2021.

We are prioritizing a program in psychiatric mental health nursing. Please explain.

Institute of Mental Health data shows that there are roughly 50,000 suicides per year in the United States. An estimated 330 people die each day from suicide and drug overdose. It’s important to make the connection that so often drug addiction and mental health go together. Our local partners echo the national discourse of three-month waiting lists to receive care and provider burnout because demand so exceeds supply. The incidence of mental illness is uniquely profound in the veteran population but exists across all sectors and age groups. We’re working closely with a number of our healthcare system partners to better understand their needs and to create innovation in community-based mental healthcare delivery that supports earlier detection and prevention.

How can nurses help transform care in our own community?

A College of Nursing really speaks to a tremendous community need. We’re building this college with and for the community. We’re creating a strategy with a focus on the end game, which is to use education to improve aspects of the social determinants of health. With the support and input from a broad group of key stakeholders, we are creating a nursing education-to-employment pathway. We are looking at our community, understanding what it needs and finding the intersections. Our healthcare systems need nurses who hail from diverse communities to help improve the health outcomes of these patient populations. Our many Lake County biopharma companies and healthcare systems need nurses engaged in patient care, administration, marketing, research, sales and concept development. Creating a robust nursing education workforce pathway is a big win for all.

Lake Forest College’s Shubhik K. DebBurman, PhD, (left) and Dr. Larson in a science lab on the LFC campus.

What has the pandemic revealed about your profession?

Nursing is so worthy of the trust people place in it. The public sees the profession as ethical and honorable and honest. Many in our ranks have given their lives for the care of patients who have contracted COVID-19. Many have also experienced a tremendous emotional toll from seeing so many lives lost — despite exceptional nursing care. Nurses’ management of COVID patients has helped us see just how much we need them — not just in the ICU during the pandemic, but functioning in our communities in new ways.