SIU, SIH expand partnership to address nursing shortage
If you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree or accumulated a significant number of hours toward a degree and have ever considered a career in nursing, you’ll want to check out a new Southern Illinois University Carbondale program that allows qualified candidates to earn their Bachelor of Science in nursing degree in about a year with a fully funded scholarship. The ongoing partnership between SIU and SIH to address the shortage of nurses has advanced to a new level with the announcement that SIH is creating a scholarship program for SIU’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
The agreement that formalizes the scholarship program correlates well with SIU’s Imagine 2030 strategic plan, and particularly the pillars that focus on improving student success and enhancing partnerships.
“As two anchor institutions in the Southern Illinois region, SIU Carbondale and SIH have a responsibility to meet the needs of our community,” said SIU Chancellor Austin Lane. “I am grateful to SIH for its support and excited that our university is providing even greater opportunities to our students while benefitting the people who live right in our own backyard.”
There’s been a severe shortage of trained nurses not only in Southern Illinois but throughout the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need the last couple of years.
“Our partnership with SIU on the nursing issue is a perfect example of a meaningful, effective collaboration,” said SIH President and CEO Rex Budde. “It helps the students find a path for a great job and a wonderful career, and it boosts the SIU enrollment. And at the same time, it helps us because it expands the pool of well-qualified nurses we can draw from. As two of the region’s largest employers, it’s very nice to partner in this cooperative, collaborative way, working together to address needs.”
Qualifying for full scholarships
People who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field or at least 70 hours toward a bachelor’s degree, including specific prerequisite courses, can qualify for this program and complete their BSN in just a year. Officials particularly encourage students with backgrounds in chemistry, biology, pre-medicine, pre-dentistry or other health sciences to apply.
Kelli Whittington, SIU assistant professor and nursing program director in the School of Health Sciences, said it’s common for people to consider making a career change to help others after experiencing a personal or family health issue. Or they may consider a career transition when they learn of opportunities in health care.
Budde said the scholarships take the financial pressure off students.
“It’s important to have options,” Budde said. “Sometimes people complete their undergraduate education and later decide they want to go a different direction. This gives them a second chance to use what they’ve already learned in a different manner.”
Likewise, at times students will begin a career in one health-oriented field and then transition to another field, such as nursing, where they find a better fit, officials said.
SIH is open to providing as many scholarships as there are qualified applicants, according to Jennifer Harre, SIH chief nursing officer. She said the scholarship funding will vary as it will be tailored to the individual needs of the student. The student will then agree to work at an SIH facility for a period of time commensurate with the amount of funding received.
How acute is need?
“The nursing shortage is significant,” Harre said. “It’s been very critical to our organization because we’ve had to backfill a large number of vacancies with higher dollar contracted employees, and that’s just not sustainable. Even then we have had to close beds at times because we don’t have the staff to cover all of the beds, and that means patients have go outside the region for care. We don’t want them to have to do that.”
The scholarship program advances the collaboration that has been in place for some time between SIU and SIH. SIU began its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2019, thanks in part to a $1 million pledge from SIH. When fully operational, officials anticipate SIU’s nursing program will provide training for about 300 students over a four-year period.
SIU’s nursing program offers three tracks: the traditional four-year bachelor’s program, RN to BSN degree-completion program and accelerated BSN program.
Accelerated program is rigorous
The accelerated program is concentrated, essentially covering the advanced skills typically taught over a three-year period in just a year, officials said.
“Students in this program typically have a track record of life and academic success. It’s a very challenging, intense program, designed to turn out high-quality nurses,” Whittington said. “We are so appreciative of SIH’s ongoing leadership and support of SIU and our students.”
“We are trying to help people go into health care because they want to help people,” Harre said. “Nursing is a hard but rewarding career. We want people who want to do it not just for the money but because they care about people. With this program, we’re telling them, if you can do this for one year, we will support you for that year. You can go to school and earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in just one year and then when you graduate, we want you to come work for us. It’s a win-win for them, SIU, SIH and the community.”