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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
July 10, 2007
DeKalb — Summer is never quiet in the Northern Illinois University School of Nursing, where courses are taught year-round to advance the careers of working nurses and to educate more for a profession in desperate need.
But these warm months are proving busier than usual – and residents from Aurora to Elgin and from Freeport to Rockford will reap the benefits.
NIU’s nursing school will admit 120 students this August. The school typically welcomes 70 students in the fall and another 70 in the spring, and even those numbers are higher than the 60-per-semester standard from just two years earlier.
Forty of this fall’s 50 additional students come thanks to a $450,680 grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. A new cohort of 40 students will gain admission every two years in a program housed at Aurora’s Provena Mercy Medical Center and Elgin’s Provena Saint Joseph Hospital.
The other 10 are able to enroll based on the generosity of Rockford’s SwedishAmerican Hospital and the Freeport Health Network, which together are providing clinical experience sites and the salary for a master’s degree-prepared nurse who will serve as clinical instructor.
“We’re totally delighted,” said Brigid Lusk, chair of the nursing school inside NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “There is a problem putting enough nurses out there – our financial means are limited – and any help we can get from the community and from the Illinois Board of Higher Education is greatly appreciated.”
The IBHE grant, awarded in February, is part of a $1.5 million allocation established by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the state legislature to expand and improve nursing programs in the state.
It will allow one tenure-track professor and two instructors to join the faculty and will grow the school’s popular RN-to-BS completion program by 20 percent. The grant also develops a Human Patient Simulation (HPS) Laboratory on the DeKalb campus that imitates clinical experiences.
Furthermore, NIU hopes to recruit more minority students from Aurora and Elgin. Senior nursing students from the DeKalb campus will travel to Kane County on a regular basis to provide peer-tutoring, and the school will purchase 40 laptop computers to compensate for the lack of computer labs at the hospitals.
The new suburban students will finish their coursework in two years by taking classes through the summers and intersession periods. Applications are still being accepted.
“We will house these 40 students at Provena Mercy,” Lusk said. “They’ll take all their theory lectures there. They’ll do their labs there – they’re even setting up a mini-lab for us out there – and will have some of their clinical experiences there. We’re really appreciative of the support from the people at Mercy Provena.”
NIU’s professors will drive to Provena Mercy to teach, Lusk said.
The presence of nursing faculty in the hospital will “add to the already present level of clinical excellence we deliver,” said Deann Edgers, coordinator of clinical education for Provena Mercy.
“Any time you expose a higher level of education, you obviously challenge others in that facility to think outside the box and be more creative in what they’re doing,” Edgers said. “We’re extremely excited, and to have students from this area just makes it that much more special and that much more personal. We’re cultivating and growing people from our neighborhood to a profession we all know and love.”
Edgers hopes the 40 students in the cohort will choose Provena Mercy as their eventual workplace – “Brand-new graduates in any institution always elevate that level of expertise a notch,” she said – but also wants the partnership to raise awareness of nursing.
“To bring a nursing program a little closer to home, so the distance is not so great, just shows our community that nursing is a reasonable career to look to and is supported in our area,” she said. “And we’re putting 40 more nurses out there in the workforce! Whether they’re 40 who come to us or they’re 40 in the workforce in general, this is wonderful.”
Some travel is required for the one-time-only cohort of Freeport and Rockford students.
“They’ll have their theory classes with our regularly enrolled students here in DeKalb. They’ll just have their clinical experiences in the Rockford and Freeport area,” Lusk said. “Every hospital is short of nurses, and their aim is to help us produce more nurses. They would also like it if some of these nurses would continue to work at their hospitals.”
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