New UNR facility will ease nurse shortfall

The number of nurses enrolled in the Orvis School of Nursing program at the University of Nevada, Reno could double in fall 2011 assuming the campus is able to find the funds to hire additional staff to teach more nursing students.

An increase in graduating nurses would go a long way toward easing regional nursing shortages, says Michelle Sanchez-Bickley, vice president of human resources at Renown Regional Medical Center.

Construction is under way on the 57,814-square-foot William N. Pennington Health Sciences Building on the north end of campus. The three-story building will consolidate the campus' nursing and medical students, and boost enrollment totals for both education programs.

"Stats suggest that Nevada ranks 50th in the nation per capital for the number of nurses, and 47th nationally in medical doctors per capita," says Marc Johnson, executive vice president and provost of UNR. "To address the shortage of health care workers, we are expanding the capability of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences to enhance our capacity to create that work force."

Currently, the nursing program has seats for 48 new nursing students per semester, and competition for those seats is fierce. The medical program can accommodate 62 students per class, with one class per year.

The new facility will allow UNR to accommodate an eventual 300 nursing students per semester, and 100 medical students per school year. Additional staff needs to be hired to handle the increased enrollment in both programs due to student-teacher ratios established by the school's accreditation standards.

Lecture classes aren't limited in size, but clinical instruction is capped at a ratio of eight students per instructor.

"If we double class size, we are going to have to have more faculty to have more clinical classes," Johnson says. "We don't have money laying around to hire addition people. We will have to go to the legislature for appropriation or to gifting to create some endowed teaching slots."

Sanchez-Bickley says that Renown, Northern Nevada's largest health care facility, has struggled in recent years to find enough qualified nurses and has recruited nationally and hired traveling nurses to adequately staff the hospital.

She says Renown expects to hire close to 60 new graduates in the next few months, and the hospital prefers to hire local graduates because they tend to stay in the area and don't bolt after receiving valuable on-the-job training.

"The more individuals that can come out of school as graduate nurses, you can have more nurses that you can hire and bring them on board. Our goal is to have nurses and beds when the community needs them. The more that can come out (of school) is an opportunity for us to fill vacancies."

Overall cost of the new Pennington Health Sciences Building is $48 million, with $12.9 million coming from private funding and the state picking up $35 million, Johnson says.

General contractor Sundt Construction of Tucson, Ariz., broke ground in December on the project. Unlike the cramped quarters faced by contractors erecting the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center on the south end of campus, construction on the open north end of campus, which includes the soon-to-open Center for Molecular Science, is much easier.

Additionally, the bulk of the student body won't be on campus during the heavy construction phase. Vortex Steel currently is installing the steel framework for the three-story structure and expects to top out on June 25. Other local subcontractors include RHP Mechanical and Nelson Electric.

Scott Brown, project manager for the university's facilities services department, says the Health Sciences building will include 14 standardized patient rooms where students can simulate hospital and medical office working conditions. A training software system called B-Line Medical will tape medical and nursing student-patient interaction for review and critique by university professors.

The new building also will have labs that include three robotic mannequins that simulate various ailments that students will try to diagnose.

"They can actually work on a patient without the risk of any errors during their learning process," Brown says.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment