U program aims to fill statewide nursing shortage

The University’s nursing program is turning graduates into nurses in 16 months.

When Allison McVay-Steer took a job as a secretary at a high-risk pregnancy clinic after college, she said, she was planning to apply for medical school.

Practical experience in a health-care setting, she said, changed her mind.

“I learned right away that I didn’t want to be a doctor,” she said. “The doctor just comes in and diagnoses and fixes the problem. The nurse is the one that’s there to help the patient cope. It’s a more compassionate role.”

A recent graduate of the University’s new post-baccalaureate nursing program, McVay-Steer now works as an obstetrical nurse at Fairview-University Medical Center.

In December, she was one of 20 students in the first class to graduate from the program, which started in 2002.

With a statewide nursing shortage, the University program is turning college graduates into nurses in 16 months, while grooming them for advanced fields in nursing.

Students receive a nursing certificate that prepares them to take the state-administered licensing exam to become registered nurses.

Credits worth approximately one-third of a master’s degree are built into the program.

Applications to the program have nearly tripled from 41 in 2002 to 117 for the class that will begin this fall, said Mary Pattock, spokeswoman for the University’s School of Nursing.

Of those, 40 applicants were accepted into the program. To qualify, students must have a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree and complete more than 30 hours of scientific prerequisites.

While many of the students have bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology, more than half have degrees in other fields, including literature, French and economics.

The school admits this mixture intentionally, program director Mary Rowan said.

“(The educational diversity) brings a richness, not only to the classroom discussion, but also the perspective you bring into the practice,” Rowan said.

Sarah Tellijohn, a graduate of the program, was a journalist covering Minneapolis politics and neighborhoods before she pursued nursing.

She now works on a surgical floor of a hospital, caring for patients with a wide range of medical issues such as diabetes, liver or kidney failure and gall bladder removal.

“There’s a lot of creativity to your job. Every patient is a new person,” Tellijohn said.

There are approximately 2,000 nursing vacancies statewide, half in the Twin Cities and half elsewhere, said Elizabeth Biel, director of health policy at the Minnesota Hospital Association.

By 2020, the number will quadruple, she said.

Local hospitals are snapping up the program’s students, said Courtney Streit, a Fairview Health Services workforce specialist.

Before many of them even graduate, Fairview Health Services pays thousands of dollars toward students’ tuition expenses in exchange for a future job commitment, Streit said.

Twenty-six University nursing certificate students have been sponsored this way, Streit said.

Once hired and licensed, post-baccalaureate nurses earn approximately $23 per hour, Streit said.

Other rewards for graduates include greatly improved job satisfaction, McVay-Steer and other graduates of the program said.

McVay-Steer said she now sees herself as an educator – teaching women to breast-feed their babies and care for themselves.

“It’s hard work, and I’m here almost every day,” she said. “But I love it.”