Summer enrollment option added to U. nursing college to address Utah's nursing shortage

The University of Utah College of Nursing announced on Friday that it plans to increase enrollment in the prelicensure track to address a nursing shortage in Utah.

The University of Utah College of Nursing announced on Friday that it plans to increase enrollment in the prelicensure track to address a nursing shortage in Utah. (University of Utah)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The need for registered nurses is rising, according to University of Utah Health. There are about 2,500 unfilled nursing positions in the state and many nurses are nearing retirement.

To address this, the U.'s College of Nursing decided to increase the enrollment in its prelicensure track by 25%, allowing 60 students into the program three times a year, instead of 72 students two times a year, by adding a summer enrollment option.

The college said it will commit $400,000 each year to make this change, some of which will be spent on hiring additional faculty and staff, according to Dr. Marla De Jong, dean at the U.'s College of Nursing.

"We are trying to graduate more registered nurses to meet the growing demand and, in particular, ensure that there are enough nurses in Utah to provide quality care for patients now and in the future," De Jong said in a Friday news release.

She told she anticipates there won't be a problem filling the new spots, with the exception of this summer because of how quickly the change is happening. In the last admission cycle, the U. received 375 applications and were able to accept only 72.

About 88% of graduates from the nursing program live and work in Utah, and would likely be able to help address the state's needs.

De Jong said that because of a large number of vacancies, working nurses are asked to work extra shifts or longer hours, and hospitals have closed beds because they do not have enough nurses to staff those beds. This can cause longer wait times for patients, particularly patients who do not have an urgent need for medical care.

She is aware that adding students to the program will have only a small impact towards solving the problem, but De Jong feels a responsibility to take the steps that they can.

"We can't unilaterally solve the nursing shortage," De Jong said. "We're fully aware that a 25% increase in our enrollment will barely put a dent in it. But we care about the people of Utah who need health care, and we're doing our best to be responsive."

She said the change, which requires them to teach all of their courses each semester, has given the college an opportunity to look closer at its curriculum and develop some elective courses that students are excited for.

De Jong said one of the largest challenges to increasing students is the need for an accompanying increase of opportunities for clinical hours. Each nursing student completes about 900 clinical hours in the health care system in a variety of settings.

"We are very grateful — very grateful — for our clinical partners, who are accepting more students that we will now enroll. We've been able to find some additional placements and think about some creative ways of scheduling perhaps, and we will be able to accommodate, now, 180 students a year," she said.

De Jong said that seeing clinical partners open doors to their students is gratifying to the college and faculty.

There are other challenges to increasing the number of nurses in Utah's workforce, and around the nation. De Jong said it is anticipated that one-third of nursing faculty will retire by 2025, which will make it harder for nursing colleges to provide enough courses, especially in all specializations. Additionally, the availability of financial aid can make it so some students aren't able to graduate from nursing school.

Adding spots at the nursing school is the right way to address challenges that health organizations in the state are facing, Dr. Michael Good, U. Health CEO, said in the news release.

"It's vital that we educate, train, and deploy enough nurses in Utah and elsewhere in the Mountain West to provide the health care that residents of this region have come to expect and deserve," he said. "This new approach to nursing education will be beneficial to all."

Enrollment for the upcoming summer semester at the U. has been filled, and the fall application cycle is closed. Spring 2023 semester applications are due by Sept. 1, and fall 2023 applications are due by Feb. 1 of that year. The deadline for summer 2023 applications has not yet been announced.

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Emily Ashcraft joined as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.


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