By Amanda Dyslin
---- — MANKATO — The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board is continuing its mission to help bolster the economy and workforce in the North Country, and one of its latest efforts is to help bring Minnesota State University's nursing program to students up north.
Beginning spring semester, several MSU nursing professors will be teaching primarily online courses for a registered nurse baccalaureate completion program. The program is a collaborative effort with the Northeast Higher Education District and Hibbing Community College, said Kristine Retherford, MSU's dean of the College of Allied Health and Nursing.
MSU already has had a presence on the Iron Range through a similar partnership with MSU's engineering program. The Iron Range Engineering program began due to the need of quality workers in the mining industry and through collaboration among state government officials, economic development workers, the local industry sector and those in engineering education.
Millions of dollars in financial support has been provided for the engineering program by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. And now for the nursing program, the board will be paying the cost of MSU faculty salaries for providing those courses.
“Because we had a presence there with the Iron Range Engineering … we were a likely first choice to pursue,” Retherford said. “And in addition, the reputation of the School of Nursing here at Mankato is very, very strong.”
Hibbing Community College offers an associate's nursing program. One of the closest baccalaureate programs is at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, which is about 75 miles from Hibbing.
So the idea behind the MSU Iron Range Nursing Program is to provide a convenient way for nurses to complete their degrees closer to home. However, anyone may take the courses; the program is not just for Hibbing Community College students, Retherford said.
With general education courses completed, students will be able to earn their bachelor's completely online in as few as three semesters.
“They will be the same exact courses (as are taught in Mankato) with an emphasis on family and societal health and, in particular, rural settings.”
In the fall of 2014 MSU will begin a master's degree family nurse practitioner program and doctor of nursing practice degree program also aimed at registered nurses residing in the Iron Range. These programs also will be primarily online.
All three programs (undergraduate and graduate) will allow working nurses with associate's degrees to complete their degrees while continuing to work in the northeast.
“It's going to roll out slowly,” Retherford said. “Initially, three to four faculty members (will be teaching), and then by fall it should be up to seven.”
In a statement, Hibbing Community College Director of Nursing Barbara Bozicevich said the partnership with MSU is convenient for students and helps the area achieve the Institute of Medicine's mandate that by the year 2020, 80 percent of the nursing workforce must hold a minimum of a bachelor's.
“Currently, hospitals located in our region are principally staffed with associate degree nurses,” Bozicevich said in the statement. “Additionally, our region is in desperate need for 'mid-level' practitioners (nurse practitioners and doctor of nursing practitioners) and these programs will meet that need.”
Retherford said if the program proves to be in demand with strong enrollment, it's possible faculty could be hired to live and teach on the Iron Range. For now, she said, the programs will be primarily online, with some face to face time, and the instruction won't be full time for any faculty members.
The expansion to the Iron Range will add to the growth MSU's nursing program has experienced over the past few years. Enrollment has increased almost 30 percent in seven years, from 1,874 students to 3,018.
MSU's new Doctor of Nursing Practice program admitted its first class this fall. And the college is pursuing a 2014 capital bonding request for $25.8 million to construct a 55,872-square-foot clinical sciences facility for the School of Nursing, and Departments of Dental Hygiene, and Speech, Hearing & Rehabilitation Services.
According to a report from the college, the college's expansion is in response to the continuing state demand for nurses. The health-care industry has the most state job vacancies: more than 8,600 jobs, which is 17 percent of all vacancies.
More than 2,200 registered nurses are needed now in Minnesota. And by 2017, the need is expected to rise to more than 14,000, according to the October 2013 report. To be qualified for the open positions, at least 80 percent of nurses need to be prepared at the university level.
For more information about the Iron Range Nursing Programs, contact Terri Brandt, program adviser, at email@example.com or 218-262-6775.
At A Glance Two nursing program tracks at Minnesota State University were included in the top 5 declared "largest areas of study" list for the university as of fall 2012. Here are the programs and students enrolled: ■ Psychology -- 608 ■ Pre-Nursing -- 483 ■ Law enforcement -- 475 ■ Elementary education -- 469 ■ Nursing -- 458