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'Between Classes' | #SDState Podcast | (Ep. 58 - Nursing at SDSU)


Host: Get this statistic from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. There are nearly four million registered nurses nationwide making it the largest health care profession in the nation. As our nation's population becomes older, particularly with the Baby Boomer era, the demand for nurses continues to grow.

However, SDSU offers degrees for nurses of all levels. We have four locations across South Dakota providing greater accessibility for those looking to further their education. Heidi Mennenga is the associate dean for academic programs in
the SDSU College of Nursing. She is here to speak about the nursing field and the pathway to becoming one. Thanks for being here today, Heidi.

Heidi: Thank you for having me.

Host: So, let's talk about the nursing shortage. Obviously, that is nothing new. It was existing before the pandemic. Why is there a shortage of nurses?

Heidi: Well, there's multiple factors, many of which you mentioned in your introduction. We've always seen the nursing shortage kind of ebb and flow over the years but certainly COVID did not help matters there. We just see an increasing number of nurses leaving. We have nurses that were previously in facilities and now they're taking travel nursing jobs whether that's in state or out of state. Nurses who are taking early retirement options or just leaving the profession altogether. It is not attractive when you think of some of the marketing or some of the advertising you saw about nursing during COVID. Um you know, the sores on people's faces for masks, the increased conversation about burnout. It
doesn't tend to attract people to the profession currently.

Host: Why despite all of that should people want to become a nurse?

Heidi: It is truly one of the most rewarding professions and there's so many different options that nurses can do with a baccalaureate degree in nursing. You have a vast variety of environments that you can practice in. And so if you get tired of one place, there's always a place for you somewhere else as a registered nurse or advancing your degrees, advancing your education so that you're able to do something a little bit different. Ultimately, it just goes back to the fact that as a nurse, we are able to participate in in the lives of patients at their most vulnerable moments. Uh whether it's just through an illness or whether it's through the birth of a baby or the death of a loved one. We just get to take we get the privilege to take care of patients and that is truly the most rewarding reason to become a nurse.

Host: Yeah, I mean, nurses, they play a very vital role in patients care. With that being said, there are a variety of degrees that SDSU offers really from all levels of nursing. What are those and how can students take advantage of that.

Heidi: Yeah, we do have a great variety of options. So, for undergraduate students, you're fresh out of high school. You're thinking you want to become a nurse. We have our traditional baccalaureate option. Um so, you can come to Brookings for example and do a standard program or you can go to Rapid City and do our standard program where you take courses fall and spring and you go for four years and you're, you're done with your
education. You graduate with your baccalaureate degree. We also have a a more fast track standard option at our Sioux Falls site and in that program, once you enter the nursing program, you go five straight semesters including summers. So, you're done in a shorter period of time and then, we also have our accelerated option that's available through our Aberdeen/Rapid City Accelerated Program. So, located either in Aberdeen or Rapid City, you're able to
participate in this program or we also have that at our Sioux Falls campus. This program is really gear towards students that have a previous degree. They come in. They do our nursing program in 12 months and complete their bachelor's degree in nursing.

Additionally, we have an RN to BSN option. So, for nurses who might have an associates degree in nursing and they want to get their bachelor's degree, they can come in to this highly flexible all-online program. It can be completed in as little as 9 months. If students want to, their seven-week courses that students are a to take and complete their bachelor's degree and then we have a number of graduate options and I do want to just point out all of our graduate programs are
available online which make it highly accessible and available to students across the country so our graduate programs we have several masters options students can declare a masters in nursing and then they can focus on a specialization of family nurse practitioner nurse educator nurse administrator, or clinical nurse leader. We also have a DNP so a doctorate of nursing practice option and students can seek that also in their family nurse practitioner option where we also have a psych mental health nurse practitioner. There is a huge need for psych mental health nurse practitioners right now. So, we're really focusing on growing that program.

Additionally, we also offer the only PHD in nursing in the state for students to choose from.

Host: Obviously, we need nurses practicing in the field, but with the greater job demand also comes the demand for people to teach those nurses, to become a nurse and those graduate options that you had talked about is the fast track to get teachers, get instructors, get professors to teach students to become nurses. Where are all of the sites that we are involved in? I know you said a few specific ones but obviously we have one here on our campus in Brookings, but we have some and a few other towns in South Dakota as well.

Heidi: Yes, we have been very fortunate to be spread across the state and that's really been driven by clinical partners who have identified. We need more nurses in those areas and so we need advanced or we need additional educational opportunities for them in those specific areas. We are located in Rapid City. Right now, we are located in several buildings throughout Rapid City, but we do use a a space within Black Hill State University at the Rapid City campus and we've just been approved for a building project to add on to that and that'll have a specific SDSU nursing space located there for us. That's huge for our program. It's going to allow students to be within one space of their learning. They'll no longer have to drive across town to do lab and then a different place to do their theory. They'll be able to be within one building and just give more a campus feel to that. Um additionally, in Aberdeen, we're on Northern State University's campus right now and we just had a building project approved there as well and so that'll be a brand-new building that they'll house business and nursing in. So, it'll be a designated College of Nursing location. Again, huge opportunity for our program. We'll really provide for some growth in both of those locations. We are also located in Sioux Falls We are on Southeast Technical College's campus there and they have been fantastic partners in providing space for us to house our program there as well. You know, we're always looking for additional funding to improve our existing programs and to expand those building projects in Aberdeen and Rapid City are a great opportunity for us and they really are, like I said, going to promote growth. However, it really pays for the building. We are going to have to be looking for additional funding to help help really outfit the building within the equipment that we're going to need.

Host: It's really great to see people investing in the new spaces. Uh you know, letting students collaborate and be in one place to further their education rather than going back and forth and also yes, additional funding for the latest and greatest technology is wonderful especially because students tend to learn at least for the first few semesters or whatever part of their program on simulation; like all of these sites have simulation labs. Tell me more about how students can get hands-on experience through simulation and then get their chance at clinicals. Learn on real human beings.

Heidi: It's a great opportunity. We have simulation and clinical threaded throughout our five semesters of our program. Um we are partially accredited for our simulation space right now. We will submit for full accreditation this summer and so that really is just it it's a really fantastic designation to have. It really shows that we're dedicated to excellence in simulation which of course then is good for our faculty and for our students who are learning there. Um every campus does have that simulation space which is really essential to nursing and it's essential to have that theory space right there readily available so students can move between the spaces. Um students ideally have the theory space, the the on-campus lab space where they can practice skills, the clinical space where we can really mimic real-life situations, and then of course, there's no replacement for the actual clinical space where students are able to go in, care for different types of patients, and really get that hands-on experience.

Host: Absolutely and I really think the quality of education that students get here really speaks for itself because even though you may a degree from SDSU. In the end, you still have to pass the NCLEX which stands for.

Heidi: National Council Licensure Examination.

Host: And you can't practice without passing that. And just as a statistic, in 2021, SDSU's NCLEX pass rate was 89%, which I would say is pretty good.

Heidi: I'm glad that you say that. Uh that is a little bit lower for us than typical but it was a national trend with co COVID and just some of the repercussions of the things we had to change for education. Um we did see a little bit of a
dip. That is something that we always strive to improve upon. As of right now today we're at about a 92 percent projected for well not projected currently for this year. Um I expect that to just increase as time goes on. We have had
consistently in our grad programs, our nurse practitioners take certifying examinations as well, that's consistently been at 100 percent. We really do, of course, I'm biased but we really do offer a fantastic program. We have a really strong curriculum. We have a really strong evidence-based teaching practice among our faculty and we have really fantastic faculty and staff that support our students and ultimately want them to succeed and so we'll invest in them to do so.

Host: Exactly. If they make the investment to pursue this education, they will get back what they give.

Heidi: Absolutely.

Host: So with all of the new sites that are being built we are able to further expand our nursing programs not just in Brookings, but at our other sites as well. There is availability to take on new students, correct?

Heidi: Absolutely. So we saw some of our highest application numbers for this fall which is incredible when you look at some of the nation trends. We're very fortunate that students continue to seek us out. Um we do have capacity to increase our numbers in Rapid City and in Aberdeen, we have seats available for students if they're interested in that in that route and if they're eligible for that program. With the new building space planned
in Aberdeen and Rapid City, we anticipate we're going to be able to increase our numbers there which will be very beneficial for our clinical partners particularly if the graduates end up staying and practicing in those locations.

Host: In all reality, if you pass the NCLEX, you really shouldn't have an issue trying to find a job.

Heidi: Jobs are fairly readily available right now. There's just been such an increase in travel nursing and it seems like almost every facility we talk to, they're employing travel nurses and of course, they'd much rather employ their
own full-time people. So, unless you're really location locked, you should not be able to, you shouldn't struggle to find a job at this point in time.

Host: Absolutely. So, if you are looking for a career path where you are almost guaranteed to have a job at the end of it, pending passing the NCLEX and looking for something that is fulfilling that helps people where you are involved in
health care but maybe don't have to go to school as long, maybe nursing is for you.

Heidi: Nursing is absolutely a fantastic option. Um bedside nursing is so important. There's opportunities for leadership at the bedside that are essential to patient care. Um nurses are huge in number. Like you said, there's nearly four million
registered nurses in the United States. We have the ability to make an impact on health care and we do every day already but as we prepare educators, as we prepare leaders, as we prepare providers, our reach is
going to get wider and our impact is going to get much stronger.

Host: Great. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Heidi about nursing at SDSU and the workforce. This is "Between Classes", thanks for listening!