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New College of Nursing at Rosalind Franklin University Aims to Build Workforce, Expand Access to Education

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science will launch a new College of Nursing in 2022 to help meet a critical nursing shortage that is impacting the quality of health care, especially among communities hardest hit by COVID-19. 

In September, the American Nurses Association declared “a crisis-level human resource shortage of nurses that puts our ability to care for patients in jeopardy.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 175,900 openings for RNs each year through 2029. Nurse retirements, an aging population and expansion of insurance coverage factor into the shortage. 

The new college, which launched a webpage this month with more information for  prospective students, will be the first of its kind in Lake County — which is home to some of the wealthiest and poorest communities in the state. The county has mirrored the nation in higher rates of COVID infections and deaths among Black and Latino populations that have also borne the brunt of the pandemic’s economic impacts.

“Rosalind Franklin University is responding to a tremendous community need,” said  President and CEO Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM. “Highly trained and well-supported nurses can create new, more equitable models of care, especially in communities with the greatest need.

“But RFU needs nursing too. A dedicated college will help us improve the health and well-being of our neighbors, support our community outreach efforts and enhance our  interprofessional culture and mission.”

RFU is developing the college in partnership with healthcare systems that need nurses in the ER, for critical care, pediatrics, maternity, mental health and many other areas of service. Clinical partners include Northwestern Medicine, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, NorthShore University Health System, the Lake County Health Department and the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center. Academic partners also include neighboring Lake Forest College and the College of Lake County, in addition to business, government and community organizations from across Lake County.

“We’re building this college with the community and for the community,” said Sandra  Larson, PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAANA, FNAP, founding dean. “Our partners are telling us they need highly trained and broadly educated registered nurses who will help improve patient outcomes, promote health and prevent disease.”

Studies show a correlation between nurse staffing and quality of care, patient satisfaction and nurse burnout. The pandemic has accelerated and deepened staffing issues, as nurses leave staff jobs for more lucrative, short-term travel positions. Among nurses surveyed for a 2021 McKinsey report, 22% said they might leave their direct patient care positions by 2022, while 66% of acute and critical-care nurses have considered leaving their profession, according to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

Registered nurses make up 80% of the state's nursing workforce. One-third of that  workforce is over the age of 55. Healthcare occupational data gathered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic forecasted 300 openings per year for registered nurse positions over the next decade in Lake County, which scores above the national median for racial disparity in educational attainment and premature death.

Shubhik K. DebBurman, PhD, senior director for science partnerships and Disque D. and Carol Gram Deane Professor of Biological Sciences at Lake Forest College, said “while Lake Forest College and RFU have independently served Lake County students and families for many decades, by combining our strengths as institutional partners, we can become truly transformative in improving the healthcare landscape, especially within hardship index communities.”

The new College of Nursing has received approval from the Illinois Board of Higher  Education to offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (DNP-PMHNP) program. In addition, RFU has a substantive change application currently under review by the Higher Learning Commission to offer a Master’s Entry into Nursing Practice (MENP).

The new college’s vision is to expand the pipeline of newly minted nurses and advanced-practice nurses through several innovative partnerships that broaden access to education, including the Nursing Education to Workforce Pathway, which will help diversify the county’s nursing workforce and promote community wellness.

“We’re being very intentional about diversity and creating equity in education,” Dr. Larson said. “We are building this nursing education-to-workforce pathway for underserved youth in northern Lake County interested in nursing. We will give those students an educational journey that is a great fit.”

The pathway is designed to begin when a student enters high school. Accepted students will participate in pipeline programs that enhance and shape their pre-nursing skills and knowledge development to help propel their success once they begin their graduate studies at RFU. Students will receive clinical placements, internships and employment as CNAs during the pathway and as RNs upon graduation. The university estimates that by 2032, 100 underserved area youth each year will successfully complete the pathway, and at least 50 per year will accept employment in local healthcare organizations.

The college will also include an Academic-Practice Partnership between RFU, Lake Forest College and the Northwest Region of the Northwestern Medicine Health System to train nurses for Northwestern’s workforce.

“We’re excited to work with RFU on developing innovative curricula that can have a big  impact on patient outcomes and increase opportunities for our nurses,” said Denise Majeski, MSN, RN, who recently retired as NM Lake Forest Hospital vice president operations/Bernthal chief nurse executive and helped craft the partnership. “We need  nurses who collaborate, communicate and advance clinical practice with the  interprofessional team to provide the highest quality care to our patients.”

Posted January 18
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