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Vermont by Degrees: Nursing expands in the NEK

Perspective, Times Argus
by John W. Mills, NVU Interim President 

It is no secret that hospitals and health care providers around the state are in dire need of skilled nurses. In Vermont, professional nursing is the largest single segment of the health care workforce. And nursing provides a good, high-paying job for those who choose this profession. Highly skilled nurses can have their choice of multiple sectors and many different high-paying jobs. The average nursing salary in Vermont is over $70,000 and nursing jobs abound statewide. Recognizing the intense need for nurses that our hospitals and health care providers have, and the quality of jobs that the nursing profession provides, Northern Vermont University (NVU) recently announced the expansion of a Vermont Technical College (VTC) nursing program at the Lyndon campus, fulfilling a much-needed gap in northern Vermont.

Last fall, NVU, VTC and Northern Vermont Regional Hospital received a $240,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration awarded to Vermont State Colleges to expand NVU’s nursing program. Under this expansion, NVU’s Vail Hall will be transformed into the Clinical Nursing Education Center complete with nursing instruction classrooms and skills and simulation lab spaces. The center will allow students to practice, research, learn and succeed in their nursing studies.

The 1,500-square-foot nursing education center will be the first-ever clinical classroom and lab space dedicated to nursing education on an NVU campus and is paramount to expanding the nursing education pathway into a rural region that has critical nursing shortages. A robust nursing program has long been missing from higher education in the Northeast Kingdom and this expanded program provides that missing link to educate highly skilled nurses at NVU.

This newly expanded program couldn’t come at a more critical time. Vermont’s hospitals and almost all of the state’s health care providers are facing dire skilled worker shortages. According to the Vermont Board of Nursing, the number of new Registered Nurses licensed in the state of Vermont declined 69% from 2007 to 2014 and in 2018, the Vermont Talent Pipeline forecast a need for 900 skilled nurses in Vermont per year while in 2019, only 421 completed LPN and RN licensure programs. This need has only been exacerbated by the incredible stress on the health care sector from the COVID-19 pandemic. The nursing workforce is essential to providing high-quality health care immediately and this expanded program will strengthen the nursing career pipeline that is desperately needed.

The nursing expansion is a true example of public-private collaboration. The facility will be in Lyndon. Vermont Technical College will administer the nursing program, expanding on their existing programs in the NEK; and Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital will donate hospital beds and other equipment to the skills and simulation lab spaces, and continue as a clinical training site. As a regional resource, it also has the potential to network and coordinate with neighboring high schools, connecting the nursing talent pipeline to the secondary education level. This program is also a true example of what will be possible as NVU, VTC and Castleton University join to become Vermont State University.

The program is yet another example of how NVU is transforming to meet the needs of today’s students and the modern workforce. NVU is responding to these changing needs by innovating to ensure students have the experiences, skills and knowledge to succeed in the workplace and to make college accessible to those mid-career workers who need to reskill as technology and shifting market demands render their skills less relevant.

This expanded nursing program and NVU’s Learning and Working Community initiative, where students gain professional skills and a liberal arts foundation through impactful, hands-on experiential and academic learning, encapsulate NVU’s innovative and robust response to the changing needs of students and employers today.

Vermont By Degrees is a series of weekly columns written by representatives of colleges and universities from around the state about the challenges facing higher education at this time.