NAU expands nursing programs to serve more students

Northern Arizona University is expanding its Bachelor of Science nursing program in Tucson to accept more students.

Arizona has a growing health care workforce shortage, which the university said is a driving force behind the expansion.

The need for nurses is expected to grow by about 15 percent by 2026, according to Dr. Pamela Stetina, director of nursing at NAU.

“We are looking at a potential nursing shortage, and the RN workforce — the registered nurse workforce — is expected to grow about 15 percent, and that was from 2016 to 2026,” Stetina said. “There is a need for nurses. That in and of itself will help Arizona. I think that nurses are paid relatively well, and I think there are always jobs for nurses.”

The need for nurses is already growing by about 12 percent a year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate for other professions is just 5 percent.

“With more than 2,150 pre-nursing and nursing students pursuing a variety of nursing programs at NAU in a variety of locations or online, NAU is proud to address the health care workforce today and provide opportunities for our students to enter a high demand career with growing options,” said NAU President Rita Cheng.

Starting with the winter 2020 semester, the Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) program will accept an additional 20 students per year. NAU said it expects to graduate 200 BSN degrees per year by 2023.

“There were a couple of things that led to wanting to expand,” Stetina said. “I think the biggest one was that we were getting phone calls from students asking, because we have a lot of applications, so we aren’t always able to meet that need.”

She said even community college nursing programs in Arizona have had to turn students away because there are not enough spots.

Northern Arizona University's Flagstaff campus in fall. (Jasmine Coro/Unsplash)
Northern Arizona University’s Flagstaff campus in fall. (Jasmine Coro/Unsplash)

NAU currently has BSN programs in Flagstaff, Tucson, Yuma and Fort Defiance, graduating an average of 180 new pre-licensure BSN graduates a year.

Stetina said the program will likely continue to expand to the best of its ability: “I’m not thinking we are going to expand by 500 students, but if we can continue to expand on a smaller scale, then yes.”

She said the university is also hoping to expand the nursing program at its North Valley campus to include in-person courses, in addition to the existing online programs.

In addition to the expanded class size, the university will also offer a new program for individuals with bachelor of science degrees in non-nursing fields that lets them earn a “master’s of entry to the profession of nursing,” also known as an MEPN, so they can enter the nursing workforce with a master’s degree. That program starts in fall 2021 in Tucson.

Another new program is the Clinical Nursing Specialist Prescriptive Authority Course Bundle, which authorizes clinical nurse specialists in Arizona to write prescriptions in a limited form.

“For example, if a clinical nurse specialist is working in a hospital setting, then perhaps if they can do some limited prescriptive authority, they can get the patients sent home earlier,” Stetina said.

The program is awaiting legislative approval, which is anticipated to happen in the spring. Stetina said the program is geared toward currently-practicing clinical nurse specialists who want to refresh their training as well as obtain prescriptive authority with just a few extra classes.

NAU has in-person and online RN-BSN programs and accepts 90 transfer credits from community colleges, making degree completion accessible to more students at an affordable price. NAU also offers a Concurrent Enrollment Program that lets students take community college classes at the same time and graduate with both associate and bachelor’s degrees.

“I always like to put in my plug for our RN-to-BSN and our concurrent enrollment programs,” Stetina said. “Those are programs that currently exist that we could grow as far as the number of students that would be taking those programs.”

The RN-BSN program is offered in a “Personalized Language” format for students who need competency-based learning, allowing students to progress at their own pace.

Header photo courtesy of Northern Arizona University.

Graham Bosch

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