October 2021

Health care-focused bachelor’s degrees are the second-most popular type of degree choice for students at Minnesota private colleges, but a look at health care labor shortages and projections reveals that there’s still great need. Among those in high demand are nurses with advanced degrees. In rural areas, they may be the only available providers of preventive care or anesthesia. They serve in leadership roles in clinical settings. And they serve as faculty to train the next generation of nurses. Here are some steps from four Minnesota private colleges that address the need for advanced practice nurses and nurse faculty.

College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University create three new graduate nursing programs

Jennifer Peterson
Jennifer Peterson

Following extensive market analysis, the College of Saint Benedict, in partnership with Saint John’s University, introduced two new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs this fall and will launch a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program in 2022.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice - Family Nurse Practitioner track offers students an opportunity to prepare for one of the most in-demand nursing jobs in Minnesota. “When we were examining where the current job openings were, there were approximately 300 open positions for family nurse practitioners in Minnesota daily,” said Jennifer Peterson, assistant professor of nursing and chair of the graduate nursing program, College of Saint Benedict. “I still actively practice as a family nurse practitioner, and I see the impact of some of the staffing shortages that we’re having. More patients are coming into clinics, we have less staff to see those patients, and we have more positions in rural areas that aren’t attracting providers. Nurse practitioners can help meet those needs.”

The research revealed additional areas of demand for nurses. First, clinical partners said that they needed more nurse leaders with advanced degrees. In addition, there is a nationwide shortage of nursing faculty, and as current faculty retire the number of vacant faculty positions may grow. 

In response, CSB/SJU now offers the Doctor of Nursing Practice - Leadership and will add a Master of Science in Nursing program next year. Which program students should choose will depend on their career goals. The DNP - Leadership track can prepare students to hold an administrative position in a health care setting or pursue an academic career with rank and tenure. The MSN provides another avenue of graduate training in leadership, education and clinical practice for students who don’t want to commit to a doctoral degree. Graduates will be prepared to take on nursing leadership roles or to teach undergraduate-level nursing classes.

The graduate programs are hybrid, with both online and in-person classes. Peterson said that CSB/SJU is committed to providing the same strong sense of community and high standards that students experience in their undergraduate nursing program. “We have a very strong baccalaureate nursing program, and we’re building on that tradition,” she said.

St. Catherine University offers more in forgivable loans to support future nurse faculty

Emily Nowak
Emily Nowak

More than 80,000 qualified students in the United States were turned away from nursing programs in 2019 in part because there weren’t enough faculty to teach them. This affects not only the number of nurses overall but also the number who will move on to get a terminal degree and become nursing faculty. 

One challenge to expanding the ranks of nursing faculty is that it can be financially unfeasible for many. Emily Nowak, program director for the nurse educator concentration and associate professor in the Department of Nursing at St. Catherine University, reports that when she finished her Ph.D. in 2009, the total tuition for her graduate studies alone was more than $80,000. In addition, Nowak said, “for most people in nursing, moving from bedside practice to academics is a 40 to 50 percent pay cut.” 

One way to breakdown this barrier is the Nursing Faculty Loan Program, established by the federal government in 2003. St. Kate’s began participating in the program in 2013.

NFLP grants, made to colleges and universities, provide money that potential nursing faculty can use as loans toward their graduate education. If a loan recipient goes on to hold a position as nursing faculty at an accredited institution, up to 85 percent of the loan’s principal and interest are forgiven — 20 percent per year for the first three years of faculty service and 25 percent in the fourth year.

The program has become popular at St. Kate’s; to date, 65 graduate students have benefitted from the program, and of those, 15 currently teach in the university’s Department of Nursing. With an increasing number of students participating in the program, St. Kate’s applied for and received its largest grant yet to loan to students in 2021-22: $337,192.

St. Kate’s is especially interested in using its NFLP grant money to help prepare diverse nursing faculty. “One of our priorities is to encourage students of color to consider academics as a career path,” Nowak said. “Even starting small and asking students to adjunct or lead a clinical rotation can inspire them to consider work in academics. And every graduate you get out there who is more representative of the community is able to empower students who have backgrounds that are similar to theirs. They have the potential to impact hundreds of students down the road.”

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota creates new DNP in Nurse Anesthesia program

Leah Gordon
Leah Gordon

Nurses have been administering anesthesia for more than 150 years. They are the main providers of anesthesia in rural America, as well as providing anesthesia care in other settings, from urban hospitals to outpatient clinics. “When you go to sleep for your next procedure, it’s very likely that a nurse anesthetist is the one who is putting you to sleep,” said Leah Gordon, program director, nurse anesthesia, at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

And nurse anesthetists do far more than provide anesthesia. Licensed both as Registered Nurses and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, they can be called on to provide critical care when needed. During the pandemic, nurse anesthetists have played a critical function, helping manage the airways of critically ill patients.

Between 2019 and 2029 demand for nurse anesthetists is expected to grow by 45 percent. In addition, educational qualifications for nurse anesthetists are changing. The American Association of College of Nursing decided to require new students training to be Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists to enroll in a doctoral degree program beginning in 2022.

To meet these demands, Saint Mary’s, which has been educating nurse anesthetists for decades, launched a new Doctor of Nursing Practice in Nurse Anesthesia program this fall. “Our faculty come from diverse practice backgrounds, and all of them work clinically as well as teach. We know what is happening in the anesthesia community. We also have relations with over 40 clinical sites in Minnesota and into Wisconsin, allowing our students to practice in different settings,” Gordon said.

“Anesthesia is safer than ever, but our patients are sicker and living longer,” Gordon said. “This degree seeks to prepare our graduates to succeed in all aspects of nurse anesthesia care. Going from a 27-month to a 36-month program is important, because our students need to continue to be educated to the highest level. Our students will have more than 3,000 hours of clinical time at the bedside plus the hours they spend getting their education. They’re clocking the time, but it’s important, so that they feel prepared to care for their patients.”

Note – Other institutions that offer or will soon offer advanced nursing degrees include Augsburg University, Bethel University, The College of St. Scholastica and the University of St. Thomas. Based on the most recent data, Minnesota Private Colleges awarded 53 percent of the advanced nursing degrees earned in the state.

By Kate Norlander