Addressing the Nursing Shortage

Spring 2024
A photograph of an instructor teaching a group of five nurses, sitting around a table

The University of Arizona College of Nursing has been transforming nursing education, research and practice to help people build better futures for more than 65 years. Consistently ranked among the best programs in the nation, the college is strengthening health care’s largest workforce and the public’s most trusted profession through its undergraduate and graduate programs, offered online and on campus in Tucson and Gilbert, Arizona.

The college continues to address the challenges of Arizona’s nursing shortage and what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates will be 195,400 openings for registered nurses in the state from 2021 to 2031.

Cutting-Edge Education

If you walk past the lush vegetation and calming fountain in the courtyard and enter the main lobby of the UArizona College of Nursing in Tucson, you will come face to face with a wall of history and accomplishments dating back to 1957.

The faces of previous deans, faculty, staff and students have been ensconced along the facade, archiving several generations of Wildcat nurses who walked the corridors, participated in real and simulated trainings, and graduated to make their marks on the world. The College of Nursing, like Arizona itself, has grown, and with its new dean, Brian Ahn, PhD, the college will continue to expand its mission.

“Over the next five years, our class size is projected to grow by approximately 400 students, culminating in an overall increase to 1,000 students per year, which will help ease the national nursing shortage,” Ahn says. “Additionally, we are in the process of establishing a new BSN-Integrative Health program in Tucson, specifically designed to cater to the needs of rural underserved populations.”

Currently, the College of Nursing’s Gilbert campus is home to the nation’s only Bachelor of Science in Nursing with an integrative health focus.

With key strengths in integrative health, cancer prevention and survivorship, and nursing informatics, the college has more than 7,000 alumni worldwide promoting health and wellness in their workplaces and communities.

The dean also says the college will emphasize cutting-edge education and work on establishing the Center for Health and Technology to facilitate nursing-engineering technology approaches and improve the reach of evidence-based interventions.

“We will equip students with the fundamental nursing skills and the ability to adapt to technological advancements and interdisciplinary collaboration,” he says.

New Learning Opportunities

Since 2019, the College of Nursing has occupied the third floor of the University Building in downtown Gilbert. It recently expanded to another floor, doubling its space to a total of 35,000 square feet to welcome students in the College of Nursing’s Master of Science – Entry to the Profession of Nursing (MEPN) program. The space is equipped with an eight-bed skills lab and a nursing simulation suite designed to replicate a hospital patient-care setting. The melding of the BSN-IH and MEPN programs in the same building will help educate and train new generations of Wildcat nurses needed to fill nursing shortages.

“Master’s-level education strengthens the workforce by enabling nurses to lead health care teams to improve patient and population health outcomes in Arizona,” says Kelley Miller Wilson, DNP, director of the MEPN program. “These nurse leaders will provide excellent evidence-based nursing care and potentially use their graduate education as future faculty members to teach the next generation of nurses.”

Accelerating Degree Completion

Nearly 160 students at the College of Nursing will be able to accelerate completion of their studies thanks to a share of $43.1 million in funding provided to five Arizona nursing programs by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The College of Nursing used the funding to distribute 158 scholarships that cover the cost of tuition and fees incurred by students while completing the college’s MEPN program.

The ADHS provided the funding for scholarships in programs designed to allow students to complete entry-level nursing degrees in 12 to 18 months. Recipients agreed to practice nursing in Arizona for at least four years upon completion of their degrees.

A Passion for Nursing

Clarissa Padilla, a senior in the bachelor’s-level integrative health pathway, has known since she was a child that she wanted to be a nurse. Her mother, who worked in pediatric nutrition at a hospital, would occasionally take Padilla to work with her during an emergency run.

“We would go to the nursery and postpartum unit, and she would leave me at the front window observing the nurses doing their assessments on the newborns,” Padilla says. “It was at this young age of 5 to 7 years old that the passion of nursing was born in me. My mom always thought that I would outgrow it, but I never did.”

In 2022, the fall semester of her junior year at UArizona, Padilla was accepted into the College of Nursing’s program in Gilbert.

“When I arrived to the Gilbert campus for Level 1 orientation last year, I knew that this is where I was meant to be,” Padilla says. “I was so excited to get my badge and my red clinical nursing bag with supplies and equipment.”

Padilla is more than halfway through her nursing preceptorship in the observation unit at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, where she works the night shift. She is also attending school and working in the simulation lab as a student employee, and she is going to begin tutoring Level 2 students soon.

“I believe in giving back and paying it forward for our future nurses. One day, I hope to also become a nurse practitioner and nursing educator,” she says.

“One of the reasons that I’m so passionate about nursing is because not only do you have to be book smart, but you need to have the personality and unconditional passion for caring for others at a vulnerable time of their lives. Nursing is an ever-evolving science, and it’s a career that I know will keep me on my toes, always learning and growing as a health care professional.”

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