Monday, October 9, 2017

New UIS-UIC nursing program difficult but high-quality, students say

Expecting to graduate in the spring from one of Springfield’s newest training programs for future registered nurses, Thomas McClure of Chicago interviewed last week at Memorial Medical Center for jobs in three different intensive-care units.

“I would definitely love to work at Memorial, for sure,” said McClure, a senior nursing student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing’s RN program at the University of Illinois Springfield. The 30-year-old former Chicago resident hasn’t received an offer from Memorial yet, but he said he is hopeful about the future and grateful to be part of UIC’s challenging nursing program. 

“I’ve learned a lot,” said McClure, a former U.S. Army medic. “I’ve been very lucky to be here when it’s so highly rated.”

With its first class scheduled to graduate in 2018, the Springfield regional program director said the start-up has been successful, and interest by potential future nursing students is growing.

“We’re on the cutting edge of what’s going on in nursing and in health care,” said Cynthia Reese, director of the Springfield regional campus of the UIC College of Nursing. There’s an almost constant need for registered nurses at Springfield-area hospitals and other health-care facilities, she said.

The UIC program awards graduates a bachelor’s degree in nursing, making them eligible to take a national exam to become a registered nurse. Students also can become registered nurses after obtaining associate’s degrees in nursing at programs, such as the one operated by Lincoln Land Community College. But hospitals and other institutions are encouraging students to earn bachelor’s degrees in nursing, or go through “bridge” programs to a bachelor’s if they have an associate’s in nursing, Reese said.

Research indicates patients do better, and become victims of medical errors less frequently, when their care is provided by a registered nurse with a bachelor’s, or BSN, apparently because of students’ more in-depth studies on nursing- and science-related topics, Reese said.

Nurses with BSNs “just have a broader education,” she said. A BSN degree can offer more opportunities for advancement than an associate’s in nursing. And Reese said a bachelor’s is required before a nurse can pursue a master’s or doctorate in the female-dominated field if she or he wants to teach nursing students or become a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife.

The program at UIS was launched as a partnership between UIC, UIS and Memorial Health System.

Memorial is providing $1.25 million over a multi-year period for students in the freshman and sophomore “pre-nursing” years at UIS and in the junior and senior years, when students go through actual nursing classes and work in clinical settings at Memorial Medical Center, HSHS St. John’s Hospital and other locations. Memorial also chipped in $750,000 over a three-year period to help support the program and cover costs that include salaries for instructors, Reese said.

Twelve nursing students are expected to graduate in the spring. There are 32 junior nursing students currently, and officials hope to admit 48 junior-level students in fall 2018.

If enough nursing instructors can be hired, as many as 64 junior-level nursing students will be admitted by fall 2019, and that number will remain consistent for the future, Reese said.

Nursing students recently got to start using a new nursing laboratory on the UIS campus that was created with about $300,000 from UIC.

Some of the UIC money came from Memorial’s start-up contributions, with the rest coming from non-state funds through the College of Nursing funds, Reese said.

The UIC program, which also offers regional nurse training sites in Urbana, Rockford, Moline and Peoria, prides itself on teaching “evidence-based” nursing practice, Reese said.

Students in Springfield get to take part in lectures and presentations with students at other UIC campuses through high-end video conferencing technology. Their instructors are on par with teachers at the main campus in Chicago, Reese said.

Feedback from students at the Springfield campus has been positive, she said. “They like the faculty, they like the program. They say it’s hard,” she said. McClure and two other senior nursing students seconded that.

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on October 8, 2017.

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