Metro-East News

SIUE nursing school makes national listing

A focus on developing nurse practitioners, anesthetists and educators has put the graduate nursing school at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on a national listing for the first time.

While the university as a whole has appeared in U.S. News and World Report’s lists of the best colleges in the country for many years, this is the first time the SIUE School of Nursing has appeared in the listing of the nation’s best graduate schools.

The SIUE School of Nursing is among the top 25 percent of nursing graduate schools nationwide and is listed at No. 122, according to the 2016 edition.

Dr. Laura Bernaix, interim dean of the nursing school, said it is “an honor” to be included.

“As the school continues to mature and expand, we fully expect that our students’ education experience will continuously improve, our research efforts will heighten and the school’s positive impact in our community and throughout the region will be dramatic.”

Bernaix said the nurses who pursue graduate-level degrees at SIUE generally are studying to become nurse practitioners, often part of family practices, who take on many of the duties of a medical doctor, including writing prescriptions. Others become nurse anesthetists in cases requiring anesthesia, or nurse educators, prepared to teach in nursing schools. They also can pursue a nursing administrator degree, which helps nurses take leadership roles in health care systems, she said.

Allyson Anderson has just completed her first year of graduate study to become a nurse anesthetist. She received her bachelor’s degree from SIUE as well but had to work two and a half years in an intensive-care unit before she could even apply for the graduate school. As the spring semester draws to a close, she is planning her clinical practicum.

“What I like most about the program is that there are 25 or so clinical sites for anesthesia, from Quincy to Carbondale,” she said. “We get a wide array of experience, which is what drew to me to SIUE in the first place.”

In the last decade, the number of fall admissions at the School of Nursing has increased by more than 30 percent and the number of graduates has doubled. The fall 2014 enrollment in the nursing graduate school was 272 students, and school officials anticipate next fall’s enrollment to be 307.

Nearly 1,000 students are enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate programs combined, and students at SIU Carbondale and the Springfield medical school also take online classes via SIUE.

“The program has been fantastic,” Anderson said. “The instructors challenge us — it’s a very challenging field — but they’re very supportive and advocate for us on many levels.”

Bernaix said the SIUE School of Nursing is trying to respond to national assessments indicating a shortage of nurses, especially in southern Illinois.

“We need to be intricately involved in the design and delivery of health care,” she said. “We’re always looking to develop and offer more programs that meet the needs of our nursing workforce population, assess the critical needs of the population and find what is the best fit for us and the nurses out there.”

Part of that focus has been putting the programs available partly or entirely online, Bernaix said, allowing more flexibility and accessibility to graduate students.

“Graduate programs often involve people who are employed and going back to school after hours, so a flexible program that meets their personal life needs is a plus,” she said.

The SIUE program also places its students throughout the region and southern Illinois during their practicum hours, which Bernaix said gives them exposure to a variety of populations with different health care needs.

“They’re much better prepared to go out after graduation to secure a job,” she said.

When she is finished with her studies, Anderson said she hopes to return to the Effingham, Ill., area where she grew up to find employment.

Among the criteria for the U.S. News and World Report list are student selectivity and the achievement of the students accepted into the program; faculty resources such as the number of faculty with doctorates, research experience and actively practicing; and the number of National Institutes of Health and other federal research grants awarded to the school.