UR’s tech response to the nursing shortage

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(Photo: UR)

With an urgency to feed the nursing pipeline, the University of Rochester School of Nursing has augmented its curriculum with technology, integrating two virtual reality classrooms and a 20-bed skills lab.

New York faces a projected shortage of 40,000 registered nurses by 2030 as a result of nurse burnout and an aging population moving toward retirement. A shortage was predicted even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. A 2017 Journal of Nursing Regulation issue reported that nationwide 40 percent of nurses were over 50 and over 1 million nurses were anticipated to retire by 2030. 

This reduced workforce was compounded by the pandemic, which intensified nurse burnout. An American Nurses Foundation survey in January 2022 found that 60 percent of respondents under 35 reported experiencing an extremely stressful, violent or traumatic event resulting from COVID-19. More than half of respondents felt undervalued, and nearly one-quarter reported an intent to leave their positions within six months. 

Considering other factors, such as higher acuity of patients and the need for nurses at all stages along the continuum of care, the anticipated nursing shortage has looked bleaker and bleaker. The shortage’s impact, along with the urgency to combat it, has been felt by the team behind UR’s School of Nursing’s technology advancements.

“Nurses have a powerful role in advocating for patients and helping to be their voice at the bedside. When we hear about the nursing shortage, it worries me because of nurses’ important role in contributing to positive patient outcomes,” says Tara Serwetnyk, director of academic innovation.

“What makes the nursing shortage more complex is higher nurse-patient ratios. People are also living longer due to health care advances, so we’re taking care of sick patients that would have traditionally been in the ICU,” says Kaitlyn Burke, assistant professor of clinical nursing. “Nurses are the glue that holds everything together, collaborating with other health care professionals. If they’re not there to be that glue, everything will fall apart.”

To help bring “clinical to classroom,” the school has leveraged the latest tech innovations from Apple, Laerdal Medical and Wolters Kluwer Health to provide students with more experiential and hands-on learning opportunities.

Key curriculum innovations began in 2018 when the school launched its Redefining Our Classroom Initiative, which provides students with an iPad to use in the classroom and lab and during clinical experiences. The initiative encourages active learning strategies in a dynamic, digital classroom that goes beyond the traditional lecture-style environment.

The mobile learning initiative led to the school being recognized as an Apple Distinguished School from 2021 through 2024.

New spaces, including two virtual reality classrooms and a 20-bed skills lab, are also part of UR’s changes. The new classrooms allow students to be simulated in low- or high-fidelity environments where they can walk through caring for a patient just as they would in any clinical environment, in the hospital or at home.

Another addition is eight experiential learning rooms. These rooms allow students to break into small groups while their professor is projected into each room. This is ideal for translating from a large class setting into group work, as professors are able to give a didactic lecture followed by students working on a hands-on case study within their own private spaces.

An advantage of the school’s curriculum is its scope of academic programs, which enables an array of students to work alongside one another. Undergraduate nursing students work with standardized patients (individuals trained to act as patients for instruction), practice documentation and coordinate care with nurse practitioner graduate students. This collaboration contributes to students’ professional identity formation, officials say.

Serwetnyk says the school’s programs also help fight the statewide nursing shortage at all steps of the pipeline.

“The nursing shortage includes a shortage of clinical nurse educators as well. Providing interprofessional education and so many programs gives us the ability to educate future leaders, educators and researchers, and this is something we’re focusing on,” says Serwetnyk.

The UR School of Nursing has also expanded its available programs to make them more accessible to those interested in pursuing a nursing education. Originally, the school offered only a one-year accelerated bachelor’s program. After determining that taking a year off from work may be challenging for those interested in an accelerated option, the school introduced a 24-month program that covers the same material at a more manageable pace.

The school also offers the UR Nursing Scholars program, a tuition-free 12-month program that provides guaranteed employment to eligible candidates at Strong Memorial or Highland hospitals.

Currently, the school enrolls more than 600 students, a 30 percent increase since 2016, UR officials say. As it looks ahead, the school hopes to leverage partnerships with Apple and Wolters Kluwer Health, as well as its connection to the UR Medical Center, to spark innovation and best prepare its students for the workforce.

Evan Coleman is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a recent University of Rochester graduate. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “UR’s tech response to the nursing shortage

  1. The key question: Why are nurses burning out and young people not eager to join the ranks of this caring profession? It is still held in high regard.
    The list of reasons is long and sad. I will start the discussion with one, imperially mandating Covid-19 vaccination of nurses rather than allowing these informed professionals to decide for themselves. I invite others to add their thoughts to the list.
    The toxic hospital work environment must be fixed.

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