SRU combats nursing shortage

Partners with community colleges to attract nursing students

Published by Matthew Glover, Date: April 3, 2023
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Slippery Rock University has partnered with four community colleges in western Pennsylvania to provide 3+1 articulation agreements to address the nationwide nursing shortage.

The articulation agreement with Butler County Community College (BC3), Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) and Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) allows their students to take an additional 21-24 credits beyond their associate’s degree in nursing (RN) before transferring to SRU to complete their bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN).

“It’s always good to work with the regional institutions,” Robert Lagnese, SRU’s director of transfer admissions and orientation, said. “We have longstanding relationships with deans and faculty at the community colleges.”

SRU has previously partnered with the local community colleges, and the articulation agreement was made possible with the addition of one of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE) first online nursing programs. These colleges also already had nursing programs, making them easier to partner with.

By the time students get to this point in their academic career, they have already completed the required clinical and hands-on experience for their associate’s degree. The bachelor’s degree adds business management and leadership skills to their portfolio.

At SRU, students may attend full-time or part-time and finish the 30 credits in one semester or spread them out over fall and spring.

“Our nursing students are often working, have family and home commitments and balance a full plate as it is,” Emily Price, associate director of transfer admissions who leads transfer articulation and facilitates the transfer advocacy council, said.

Nursing chairperson Michele Crytzer and Price began the partnership with BC3, and Price created a curriculum for their students to continue at SRU before adopting that model to the other colleges.

“The others came along quickly once they realized it was an easy fit,” Lagnese said, “and there’s a potential for others, but we want to focus on where our top [nursing] students are typically coming from, which is the regional community colleges.”

Crytzer often shares that the nursing faculty have all graduated from a similar experience of completing their RN program at a community college or hospital school before transferring to complete their BSN.

SRU hopes to expand the partnership to more colleges and industries using the articulation agreement as a model. For now, they are sticking with nursing since SRU already has an online program that works well with an associate’s degree.

The partnership began in the fall of 2022, so results will not be able to be measured for several years.

The partnership also addresses the need for nurses. According to the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, there is a 31% vacancy rate for RNs and approximately 20,345 open positions, which is among the highest in the nation, according to an SRU news article.

The nursing shortage has been consistent for about 20 years, according to Lenora Karenbauer, the nursing supervisor at the SRU health center. The health center had also lost nurses and reduced their hours as a result.

Karenbauer has been a nurse for 30 years and has been at SRU for 18 years. Before coming to SRU, she worked in an emergency room.

Nursing has historically been a female-dominated field. The turn of the century has opened more career paths for women, meaning fewer are going into nursing.

“Even though men are doing nursing more, it doesn’t even out to the number of women that are not doing nursing,” Karenbauer said.

Nursing is also not a glamorous career path. Healthcare workers were held in high esteem during the pandemic, but that support has diminished as public frustration regarding lockdowns and COVID-19 aftereffects has grown.

There are also very few options in the field for working from home unless teaching or in an administrative position. Karenbauer worries that there are not enough nursing faculty to train and educate a larger number of nursing students.

In the emergency room, Karenbauer saw the effects of the nursing shortage firsthand on both patients and the hospital itself.

“We would literally run out of space,” she said. “There would be people in the hallway because there were more patients than rooms and no way to put people that needed admitted upstairs because there wasn’t anyone to take care of them.”

Transfers could sometimes be arranged, but most often, the other hospital was in the same situation or did not accept the patient’s insurance.

The shortage hurts hospitals financially by forcing them to hire agency nurses, which are often better paid, and lowering their bond rating, which assesses the facility’s long-term viability.

Some of the big health systems that have relied on agency nurses are now becoming financially unstable, Karenbauer said.

Karenbauer is optimistic though that SRU’s partnerships will bring more nurses to the region.

“We have faculty who are progressive in their thinking, and they are their students, so they know that this kind of setup works, and they’re going to make sure it’s beneficial for their students as well,” Langnese said.

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