UAFS, Mercy, and Sparks join forces on accelerated BSN program to combat nursing shortage

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 2,229 views 

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) announced Wednesday (Dec. 6) plans for a 15-month accelerated bachelor of science nursing program, or accelerated BSN, in conjunction with Sparks and Mercy to address a nationwide “crisis” that is expected to result in 1.2 million vacancies in the registered nurse (RN) workforce by 2022.

Dr. Carolyn Mosley, dean of the UAFS college of health sciences, brought the idea to UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran after recognizing the shortage and reading the foreboding figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Mosley said there are 270 similar programs in 49 states across the U.S. with 13 additional schools considering.

Mosley said the shortage is largely a result of the “aging population, increased instances of chronic illnesses, the aging nursing workforce, and the limited capacity of nursing schools due to lack of faculty,” adding that the average nurse’s age is 56 years old. She said schools of nursing are struggling to meet demand “because of lack of faculty and budget constraints.”

While the BLS figure speaks to the nation, Mosley said, “We also have a shortage of nurses here in Fort Smith for the same reasons.”

Furthermore, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses reports that in the 2016-2017 school year, 64,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs.

“This will be the largest shortage since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid, which happened in the 1960s,” Mosley said.

The accelerated BSN program will begin at UAFS in the fall 2018 semester, and the application process is now open with an application deadline of March 1, 2018. The spring deadline will be Oct. 1, 2018. The program will accept 64 applicants per year, or 32 each semester. Along with the school’s traditional 120, that means UAFS will accept 184 students per year to four-year RN programs. Mosley hopes that number can grow as the accelerated BSN “becomes viable.”

The program is open to any student with a bachelor’s degree from a non-nursing discipline who maintained a cumulative GPA of 2.5 throughout their previous classwork, and it will “mirror our existing traditional program in credit hours and courses,” Mosley said.

“The difference is the length of time that these students will have to take these courses. It will be condensed … you enter in the fall semester, you complete at the end of the (following) fall semester. If you enter in the spring semester, you complete the program at the end of the (following) spring semester.”

Mosley said research into these types of programs shows “individuals who have a bachelor’s degree are successful because they’re more mature. They’ve already demonstrated the ability to get through a collegiate program,” adding that a major benefit of the program for students coming in is “individuals who already have a degree will have most of those prerequisite courses the state requires.”

On the topic of retention, Beran said, “What you’re going to find with this new program is that more will stay because those are nontraditional students. They’re here. They’re looking for a good-paying, solid job that will provide benefits and all that. And their families are here for the most part, and so that group will probably have a much greater percentage staying right here in the Greater Fort Smith region.”

Beran continued: “I think if we did a poll in the traditional realm, the younger, more traditional students perceive themselves as having more of an opportunity to go other places whereas the nontraditional students tend to stay here because this is where their families and responsibilities are.”

“The problem is real. It’s scary,” said Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. “We jumped on board because we were looking for ways to collaborate, and UAFS came forward with an innovative way to solve the problem.”

Gehrig said nurse retention within the community does tend to be better with accelerated BSN graduates, adding that he “would challenge the community that we’ve got to do our part around the retention piece. I’m excited about the positive momentum and energy in the community. We’ve got to keep that going and asking, ‘How do we make this a place where the young professionals stay and make this their home?'”

On working with Sparks on the project, Gehrig said, “I think all of us are anchor institutions in this community that need to continue to find ways to come together. We appreciate the relationship we have with this university. And the same goes with Dan (McKay, Sparks Health Systems CEO). It’s a reflection of the leadership. A lot of people think Sparks and Mercy don’t work well together. We know there are areas where we’re going to continue to compete, but we do come together more than people realize.”

McKay also commended UAFS for the “innovative” program.

“We have a tremendous need. This is going to be a great program. Just at Sparks, we have about 2,000 employees, and 70% of that is nursing. I think off-hand we have about 70 (nursing) openings today. We have an aging workforce. So we’re excited about this program and think it will benefit this community tremendously.”

McKay continued: “We appreciate the relationship we have (with Mercy and UAFS). We have a crisis here, really and truly, nationally and locally, and we have to work together innovatively to solve it. I think we are. I think we’re heading in the right direction. It’s one of my number one concerns, retaining and recruiting staff … so anything we can do to make this community and keep this community a place where people want to live and work, that’s got to be a priority as well.”

Beran said the program was “cost prohibitive” for the university to do alone, deferring to UAFS Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Georgia Hale for dollar amounts. In a statement to Talk Business & Politics, Hale said, “Without the assistance of Mercy and Sparks hospitals with implementing this accelerated BSN program, UAFS would have to hire 10 new full-time faculty members. Salaries for these new faculty would cost between $800,000 and $900,000 annually … This does not include benefits and other program costs.”