The University of Tennessee Medical Center and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Nursing are partnering to create the Nursing Scholars Program, an initiative that will provide UTMC a steady pipeline of nursing graduates to employ and help the college meet regional workforce needs.
The new undergraduate program is a robust academic–practice partnership offering nursing students an opportunity to learn and train at UTMC, the region’s academic medical center. It has the same accreditation standards and follows the same mission, vision, values and honor code as the college’s existing programs.
“Through this innovative new program, our nursing students will graduate with the skills and experience they need to make an immediate impact for their patients and their community,” said UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman. “This program is an example of how UT Knoxville, the state’s flagship land-grant university, works with partners like UT Medical Center to expand access to education and meet industry and workforce needs.”
The program provides college juniors with an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing curriculum, spanning 15 months, with the first class expected to graduate in fall 2024. When the program reaches full capacity, it is estimated that 100 additional nurses a year will graduate with a BSN from UT Knoxville and go on to work directly at the bedside at UTMC.
Victoria Niederhauser, dean of the College of Nursing, said the program and partnership give the college an opportunity to increase the number of students who graduate with a BSN.
“Through the Nursing Scholars Program, graduating an increased number of the best and brightest baccalaureate nursing students will contribute to our highly qualified and educated workforce of nurses serving the East Tennessee region,” she said.
Transitioning from Academic Learning to a Clinical Setting
Students in the program are awarded scholarship tuition from UTMC with a three-year work commitment post-graduation. All classes will be taught by College of Nursing faculty whose positions will be funded by UTMC.
“This mutually beneficial partnership addresses the complex and unprecedented nursing shortage that has impacted not only our region but the entire nation, and we are thrilled to be building upon our long-standing relationship with UT Knoxville’s College of Nursing to make this program a reality,” said Sandy Leake, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at UTMC. “The opportunity for these nursing students to receive their education and training in the very medical center they will hold their first RN position fosters confidence as they transition from academic learning into working full-time in the clinical setting.”
Students accepted into the new program will attend class and complete their clinical rotations at UTMC with access to an onsite learning lab and simulation center at the satellite campus, located in the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.
Addressing Nursing Staffing Shortages
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the health care workforce was facing challenges due to burnout and other factors. The pandemic has exacerbated those challenges, leading to national health care staffing shortages. According to a nursing workforce analysis in Health Affairs, the total supply of registered nurses in the U.S. decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 to 2021 — the largest drop over the past four decades.
Nurses make up approximately a third of a typical hospital workforce, with RNs being essential to patient care and high-quality outcomes. Leake added that UTMC has been focused on creating innovative solutions to address the unprecedented nursing workforce challenges in East Tennessee.
“We are very excited about this collaborative partnership with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing and believe the Nursing Scholars Program is a unique model for the country as it strategically creates a consistent conduit to increase the number of BSN nurses who will provide the highest quality of care to our regional community,” said Joseph R. Landsman Jr., president and chief executive officer of UTMC. “The Nursing Scholars Program will help elevate academic excellence at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and its partnering institutions as well as in the nursing industry.”
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