New facilities, equipment will help address nursing workforce shortage by increasing enrollment by nearly 50 percent
Vermont State University (VTSU) recently announced that it will expand its nursing program and facilities to enroll more students. The Williston and Johnson campuses of VTSU will undergo substantial renovation to expand the nursing education center at Williston and create a new nursing education center at Johnson. The Castleton campus will gain a telepresence classroom; the Lyndon classroom will receive updates to its lab; other nursing education locations will see improvements such as human patient simulators and additional lab equipment.
“We are so excited to be able to make these advancements for our in-demand nursing programs across the university,” said Sarah Billings-Berg, dean of the school of nursing and health sciences at VTSU. “We strive to do everything possible to meet the workforce needs of our state and this expansion is big step forward towards graduating more nurses who are ready for every level practice. We will now be better positioned to increase nursing student enrollment here in Vermont—up from 676 last year to nearly 1000 once we’ve finished these changes.”
The expansion was made possible through a variety of partnerships and funding. More than $6 million in Congressionally directed spending funds secured by Senator Patrick Leahy is allocated to building more classroom and lab space. Vermont legislative funding in the amount of $800,000 made acquisition of new simulation equipment possible (and was among several other legislative initiatives to expand the health care workforce.). The University also draws funding through partnerships with employers, such as hospitals.
“Vermont’s hospitals are working closely with higher education to create learning experiences for nursing students to grow our workforce as quickly and efficiently as we can,” said Michael Del Trecco, president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. “I’m proud to say that in Vermont, we know working together on problem areas like the nursing workforce shortage is essential. We are proud of VTSU for their focus on expanding their nursing programs because we know these are great jobs that in desperate need.”
Chief People Officer Jerald Novak at the University of Vermont Health Network explained that when hospitals that aren’t able to hire enough nurses, they are forced to rely on “travelers” to supplement staff. “This process is burdensome and expensive; with more nurses graduating and staying here in Vermont, we can reduce our reliance on temporary labor—just one reason why we engage in important partnerships with VTSU and other institutions of higher-learning to help build our workforce.”
“To address the nursing shortage in Vermont, education needs to be accessible” states Jodi Stack, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. “It’s exciting to hear that VTSU will be expanding all of its programs from certificates in practical nursing up to training nurse-educators at a master’s level.”
VTSU has options for aspiring nurses that meet them where they are and support their individual professional goals and personal lives including a four-year pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and a 1+1+2 career ladder approach to the BSN which allows students to start with a Practical Nursing Certificate, followed by an Associate of Science in Nursing leading to eligibility for RN licensure, and then gives students a pathway for the post-licensure bachelor’s degree. VTSU also now has an online MSN program that focuses on nursing education and clinical leadership. VTSU works with hospitals to support students to “earn while they learn” supporting nursing students with a flexible schedule, education release time, and financial support while they earn their certificates or degree.
Billings-Berg stressed that new capacity for higher degrees will also result from expansion. “Our post-licensure bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, which are largely online, will benefit from the planned program growth,” she explained. She noted that the expansion of the nursing program has already begun, and the school expects to welcome students to expanded sites in 2024.