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Nurses applaud new SIU nursing program

Johnna Smith, nurse executive at SIH St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in Murphysboro, talks about the advantages of a having a four-year degree program in Carbondale to train registered nurses. 

CARBONDALE — When Illinois Board of Higher Education approved a proposal from SIU to offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the Carbondale campus, everyone was excited about the potential it brings to the region.

The stories of a couple nursing administrators at Southern Illinois Healthcare and their training illustrate just what the new program will mean for those wanting a career as a registered nurse.

Johnna Smith, a nurse executive at SIH St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, followed a route for nursing school that is common to Southern Illinois students.

First, Smith enrolled in the part-time licensed practical nursing program at John A. Logan College in Carterville. Upon graduation from the LPN program, she applied for the part-time Associate Degree Nursing program at Logan and was accepted. ADN program graduates take a state test to be registered nurses.

It is important to note that the college graduates more LPNs each year than it has students in the ADN program.

Smith said it was very hard and she struggled to complete the two programs back to back. So, she spent the next seven or eight years working as a registered nurse before she returned school to complete her master’s and doctorate degrees. She completed both degrees through an online program offered by McKendree University in Lebanon at John A. Logan College.

“I took advantage of an instruction from McKendree University in partnership will John A. Logan College,” Smith said.

Most of the instruction was online, with in-person class meetings in Carterville. Smith liked being in the classroom, but finally took advantage of online classes to help earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. People who prefer an in-class experience or do better with traditional instruction now have that opportunity.

Smith has been a registered nurse since 2005.

Jennifer Harre, vice president and chief nursing officer at SIH, took a different path to her career as a registered nurse. She received her BSN from Morehead State University in Kentucky. She also received her master’s in nursing from McKendree University.

Harre has been a nurse with SIH for 10 years and was named chief nursing officer four months ago.

Students who enroll in the new Bachelor of Science in nursing degree program at SIU will go to school four years and graduate as a BSN. This will open doors to students who would not be able to move out of the region for four years of school due to family or work obligations.

“Studies show that nurses with advanced degrees believe in a use evidence-based practices and critical thinking skills more often,” Smith said. “Through your bachelor’s you actively do research to support the process and implement what you want to do.”

“Nursing school is difficult in general, so it’s not going to make becoming a nurse any easier. What is going to allow us to do is to really partner with a BSN school to ‘grow our own’,” Harre said.

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Advanced degrees also train nurses in certain specializations such as nursing administration, palliative care or as nurse practitioners.

“This is going to allow us the opportunity to help with their curriculum. We take care of really sick patients, so how can we graduate nurses who are ready to step into these specialty fields, whether it is the cath lab, the operating room, critical care or trauma?” Harre said. “This is going to allow us to help prepare these new grads to come into this complex environment.”

Harre and Rex Budde, president and CEO of SIH, said the need for nurses is skyrocketing. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Employment Projections 2016-2026” gave expectations for growth of the RN profession from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026, an increase of 438,100 nurses. They also projected a need of more than 200,000 nurses to fill newly created jobs or to replace nurses who retire.

“I had lots of conversations with nursing about need to get BSN and bridge from RN to BSN,” Budde said.

Then he began having conversations with administrators at SIU. He started with the late Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, then with Interim Provost Meera Komarraju and Interim Chancellor John Dunn. He said they kept on it and got approval for the school. Representatives of SIU also spoke to the community colleges to get them on board with the project.

“This really is a win-win for all of us,” Budde said.

For more information on the nursing program, contact Mary Smith, academic adviser in the School of Health Sciences at SIU, or Robert Broomfield, allied health specialist at SIU, at 618-453-7211.

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Reporter

Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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