St. Mary's College preparing nursing students amid shortage

ST.JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – Nurses saw firsthand the realities and seriousness of COVID-19, and now professors are adapting the way they teach the next generation of healthcare workers to better prepare them.

“It’s been an overnight shift because I think we’ve always had an emphasis in blood work pathogens, and being safe around infectious diseases. But, now we have to prepare them for being fit tested for N95 masks. We have to really re-enforce just the basics of good hand washing,” St. Mary’s College Nursing Science Director, Sue Anderson said. 

A nurse is usually the first person a patient interacts with at the hospital, and for dying COVID patients, they can often be the last person they see as well. The stress of the pandemic has no doubt put a strain on nurses on the frontlines, working double shifts, under pressure, and caring for the sick. 

Sometimes holding up the phone so dying patients can say goodbye to loved ones. Experts say as many as half a million nurses will retire by the end of next year, and as many as 1.1 million new nurses are needed nationwide to fill all the vacancies. Making the need that much more dire.

"The pandemic has really added a layer of complexity to everything you do. Nurses have always go everywhere they are called,” said Anderson. “I think that we try and give our students a real vision of what they’re heading into. Not all of our students will go into those critical care areas.”

The department of Nursing Science at St. Mary’s College currently has 165 undergrads enrolled, and 54 doctoral students. Student enrollment in the program is steady, said Anderson.  

“We know that the more of us that are willing to go into the profession, the shortage will decrease, so we just continue encouraging people to join the field of nursing. It’s so rewarding,” said Kathleen Soller, a senior nursing student at St. Mary’s College. 

For current nursing students, like Soller, the pandemic hasn’t deterred their career choice.

“It’s obvious that we have so many people who are becoming more and more ill and needing hospital visits. That the need for nurses is so great. And to be somebody, who would step back from that, and say ‘I’m scared or this is not the line of work for me,’ that’s just not who I am,” Soller said. “I want to jump into action and be the one to take care of those people. 

The nursing program at St. Mary’s College is ranked third in Indiana. 

Currently, Regina Hall is undergoing a major renovation and will house the new center for Integrated Healthcare Education. 

 “I would say, this building is a multi-million dollar investment in our nursing students and our faculty and truly it’s a forward-thinking view of what healthcare will be in the future,” Anderson said. 

St. Mary’s College was awarded a one million dollar grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund the first phase of a three-stage renovation project, starting with the Department of Nursing Science. 

Regina Hall is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation and will wind up with high-tech nursing simulation labs, a nursing skills laboratory, examination rooms, and more.

“All of the new equipment in a state of the art equipment. It really gives our students the edge over other students because not every nursing program has this,” Anderson said. “ “Everything that the undergraduate student could need to be prepared to go out into the real world we have down there and we also have everything that the DNP student will need to be prepared as well.” 

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