Nurse shortage? Not at South Dakota State

(Brookings Register) South Dakota State University graduated 251 nursing students at various levels in Brookings and Rapid City May 5.

Two days before graduation, Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health recognized College of Nursing administrators Roberta Olson and Sandra Bunkers for their education and production of registered nurses for the region’s largest health-care provider.

The May 3 nurse appreciation ceremony at the Washington Pavilion saw more than 50 nurses honored in various categories.
Olson, the college dean, and Bunkers, the head of graduate nursing, were among nine educators to receive an engraved crystal award declaring them to be “Friends of Sanford Nursing” in recognition of their contributions to preparation of professional nurses at Sanford USD Medical Center.

Sanford employs 2,800 nurses in the Sioux Falls region, and about 2,500 attended the event or watched by video link.

A growing program at State

Since Olson began as dean in 1994, the college has grown tremendously. In 1994, it graduated 225 nurses and the overwhelming focus was on the traditional, four-year, on-campus program. It admitted 136 pre-licensure plus 25 RN Upward Mobility, or licensed RNs, undergraduate students per year. In addition, 25 master’s-prepared RNs graduated.

The 251 May 2012 graduates edges past the 250 graduates in 2010, the previous high.

This spring’s graduates total 80 from the traditional Brookings program and another 42 at Rapid City. In addition, another 79 students earned their bachelor’s degree through RN Upward Mobility, an online program that allows practicing nurses to gain their four-year degree.

Another 40 received master’s degrees while seven earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice and three received a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in nursing.

After earning their undergraduate degrees, students are consistently passing the national exam to become a licensed nurse. First-time pass rates have remained above 93 percent and 100 percent of the graduates are passing on the second or third writing, Olson said.

The curriculum is taught by 60 full-time and 82 part-time faculty members, which is double 1994 numbers.

 New programs condense curriculum

Several new programs have been added in the past two decades, most notably two fast-track programs in Sioux Falls. An accelerated option allows students who have a non-nursing degree to complete the 2 ½-year nursing curriculum in 12 months and earn their BS in nursing.

This August will mark the accelerated option’s 10th graduating class. It now admits 40 students per year with a remarkable 95 percent first-time pass rate on the national exam.

The first group of a program that allows students to complete the 2 1/2 years in 20 months will graduate 38 students in August. It is designed for nontraditional students in the Sioux Falls area who are in a pre-nursing program and can’t easily commute to Brookings.

In January 2013, a 12-month accelerated option will start in Aberdeen, where Sanford is building a new hospital.

More seek postgraduate degrees

The college also has added emphasis to postgraduate education in recent years and that has been the focus of Sandra Bunkers. The graduate nursing department head is retiring in June after nearly eight years at SDSU. Her career started in 1967, when she received her nursing diploma from Presentation School of Nursing in Sioux Falls.

“The doctoral programs have really blossomed during her tenure at State,” Olson said. The PhD in nursing started in fall 2005. To date there have been eight graduates. There are 29 students progressing through the PhD studies to prepare as nurse scientists.

In 2009, the MS for Nurse Practitioner program was expanded to the doctoral level in a practice-oriented doctoral program. This Doctor of Nursing Practice plan of studies prepares advanced practice nurses to apply research at the point of care with patients in a variety of settings.

 Bunkers career totals 45 years

Bunkers joined SDSU in 2004 and became department head in 2005. Most of her career was spent at Augustana College, beginning in 1977 as an assistant professor. She chaired the nursing department from 1997 to 2001 and later coordinated its master’s program.

Bunkers left Augustana in May 2003, and spent the next year as assistant professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

The Sanford nurse appreciation event was held in advance of national nursing week, May 6-12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing. Nationally, there are 3.1 million nurses, the largest health-care profession.

The SDSU College of Nursing recognized practicing nurses by treating Sanford and Avera nurses to SDSU ice cream during nurses week.