Gillette College officials will begin to look at expanding the school’s nursing program next semester.
That was a topic of conversation at a recent Advisory Board meeting with new Vice President Janell Oberlander in her first meeting with the local group.
“It’s definitely one thing we need to look at,” Oberlander told the board, adding that planning will begin in earnest once the nursing program completes its accreditation requirements after the first of the year.
A task force will examine the logistics of expanding the program, which is necessary because there is a growing shortage of nurses in northeast Wyoming.
“There’s a concern about it,” Oberlander said. “It’s definitely one of our top priorities.”
The nursing program now accepts 32 students each year. Those students all begin classes in the fall. With the expansion, the nursing program would admit 24 students every semester for a total of 48 students each school year, said Louise Posten, the college’s director of nursing. The change to the program will likely begin in fall 2021.
To accept more students, the nursing program would need two additional faculty members, more assistants in the simulation center and would likely have to change class schedules to ensure there is enough space for all the students.
With more students in the nursing program, Gillette College also might need to expand its financial aid, academic support services and other student resources, Posten said.
The nursing program decided to expand because some health care businesses in the community have expressed a need for more nurses and because the program is increasingly popular. There were 244 applicants to the nursing program in 2017, and although 127 of them were qualified for the program, the college could only accept 64 students, Posten said.
Tracy Wasserburger, president of the Advisory Board, is a neonatal nurse practitioner who had worked at or with Campbell County Health for many years.
“One of the biggest issues is the clinical training side,” she said about the expansion.
There are limited opportunities in northeast Wyoming for clinical training, and while the college’s simulation center helps offset the lack of local opportunities, if the nursing program were to expand, the college would need to develop additional clinical training options for its students, Wasserburger said.
“I also believe the clinical application is paramount,” she said, suggesting the college could develop clinical trainings at a surgical center or in long-term care. “We need to partner with a lot of people.”
Robert Palmer, a member of the Advisory Board, recommended the college include Campbell County Health in its discussions. He also wondered if there were possibilities for additional clinical training if transportation and lodging were provided to nursing students outside of Gillette.
“I don’t think that’s an option,” Wasserburger responded, adding that it would increase competition because it would allow other centers to compete for the same nurses attending Gillette College. “If we want to do this opportunity (to add a physician assistants program, for instance), it doesn’t hurt to start those conversations.”
This is the second time in recent years the college has considered expanding its nursing program. The college originally opened its practical nurse program to 15 students in January 1983. It added a registered nurse program in 1987. Since the nursing program began more than 30 years ago, it has steadily grown both because of community need and student demand, Posten said.
In addition to expanding the nursing program, the college is looking into developing physical therapy assistant, occupational therapy assistant, lab technician, phlebotomy and radiology assistant programs. Each of these programs is in the preliminary stages and will require work with local partners to better understand community needs, Posten said.