Nursing a Bright Future
IRSC uses funds from Scott gift to educate health care providers
BY DONNA CRARY
In December 2020, renowned philanthropist MacKenzie Scott opened the door to life-changing opportunities when she pledged $45 million to Indian River State College. It was the largest individual donation in the college’s 60-year history.
The endowment was part of Scott’s commitment to donate the majority of her wealth to address some of society’s most pressing problems. Her gift to the college came with no restrictions except to spend the dollars with great responsibility.
“We’re the second largest recipient in the nation of all educational institutions,” Timothy Moore, IRSC president, says. “I felt like her challenge to me personally and to this college in general was to do the greater good.”
Certain factors in health care helped Moore decide how he would respond to Scott’s challenge. The Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida recently predicted that the state faces a looming nursing shortage of nearly 60,000 by 2035. With Florida’s growing population and baby boomers approaching retirement, the need to train nurses has become critical.
Moore looked no further than to the college’s highly regarded nursing program to help offset the nursing crisis and build a workforce for the future. According to college officials, nearly all of its nursing graduates go on to work in hospitals and clinics.
Moore’s plan for spending part of the endowment soon became clear.
On the first year anniversary of receiving Scott’s largesse, he launched plans to expand the nursing program by creating new state-of-the-art classrooms, labs and a simulation center at the Pruitt Campus in Port St. Lucie.
“Health care touches all of us,” Moore explains. “What better way to take an exemplary program, coupled with somebody’s challenged statement to do something for the greater good and make it happen. These dollars are precious. The cost to expand these programs is not inconsequential. We need the physical space, we need the technical accouterments to help train these students to the highest level of readiness.”
Construction for the new facility began in January and is scheduled to open in the fall 2023. The popular nursing school is capped at 300 annually and the expansion will increase enrollment to 600.
“We know that there is a need for nurses and we also know that we have a lot of students who want to go into nursing,” Patricia Gagliano, dean of nursing, says. “The expansion provides us the opportunity to increase enrollment and to graduate more students and meet the workforce needs of the community. By expanding our programs, the quality of health care in our region increases exponentially.”
Nurses are the frontline providers and the backbone of America’s health care system. Educating and preparing them to work in the medical field today is no small venture and has become sophisticated and high tech. To keep up with the latest advances, the new nursing school will feature a high-fidelity simulation center that replicates a real-life nursing unit in a hospital.
At the center, students will train in a variety of medical specialties including labor and delivery, pediatrics, surgery, ICU, emergency medicine and behavioral health. Here they will hone a wide range of clinical skills on lifelike simulation mannequins and get hands-on experience before caring for patients in a real-world health care setting. Students will interact and work as nurses at the bedside under the direct supervision of the faculty.
“It expands our teaching modalities,” Gagliano explains. “The simulation center provides us the opportunity to create scenarios that are high risk, but may not be seen frequently.”
Some of the planned scenarios students will be taught to handle include heart attacks, strokes, asthma, post-operative care, traumas, fractures, code blue and hospice situations.
The simulation center will also help target important areas of nursing such as patient safety, communication, medication, clinical judgment and bedside decision-making.
“It is essential for students to understand the decision-making process to ensure they are incorporating good clinical judgment at the bedside,” Gagliano says. “We can slow the process down step-by-step and even stop scenarios for discussion on what happened and what could occur if we continue. We have to make sure they are processing information correctly because at the end of the decision, the care provided affects the patient.”
In 1965, IRSC began its nursing school, educating and training registered nurses through its Associate of Science degree program. The college held its first graduating class two years later with 12 students. Since those early days, the nursing school has grown to become a leading program in the state.
“We have an excellent nursing program,” Gagliano points out. “We have faculty that are credentialed with master’s and doctorate degrees. They are dedicated to students and understand the challenges of education and work-life balance. We have a community partnership that is extremely supportive of our students, and then seek them out to have them in their place of employment.”
The nursing program is accredited and prepares students for a variety of careers in medicine. Students can study to become nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses or registered nurses seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The curriculum for each career path includes classroom lectures, labs, and clinical learning with a different focus for the specific specialty.
If someone is looking for an entry level job in nursing, they may want to consider becoming a nursing assistant also known as a CNA. The students are trained to provide basic patient care in long-term care facilities, which includes feeding, bathing, dressing, grooming and transporting patients.
“The great thing is these jobs provide a good salary with benefits,” Gagliano says. “This program lifts people up. They are very special to our hearts because we get people working quickly.”
In 2007, Kendy Campusano completed the CNA program. After receiving her license, she was immediately employed at A Visiting Redi-Nurse agency, where she worked as a home health aide for 12 years.
“I had a great experience as a CNA through the agency because I was doing patient care in their homes,” Campusano says. “It’s a very personal approach. That really gave me the head start in nursing. It gave me the perspective of what it is to be a nurse.”
Another field of study offered is licensed practical nursing, which is a one-year certification program. Students are trained to work under the guidance of doctors and registered nurses and they learn how to check blood pressure and vitals, help patients eat and dress, administer injections and dress wounds. Graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Exam for LPNs upon completing the program.
Once Campusano got a taste of nursing, she knew that one day she would become a registered nurse. But first she enrolled in the college’s LPN program and that, she says, gave her a good foundation and her basic nursing care knowledge.
“At the LPN level, you have to learn how to be organized and how to be a team player,” she explains. “I’m glad that I did it. I would recommend anyone that wants to go into the RN program, especially people who have no medical background, to do the LPN first. They’ll feel more comfortable getting into the RN program.”
Registered nurses provide direct, round-the-clock care to patients in a variety of acute clinical settings. IRSC offers this in-demand career path through its registered nursing degree. Students who complete the 72 credit-hour curriculum are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Exam for registered nurses.
In May 2020, Mason Bass graduated from IRSC with an associate degree in nursing and passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurse the following month. After receiving her license, she was hired as a cardiac stepdown nurse at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital.
Bass says that from the skills labs to clinicals, the RN program prepared her to become a well-rounded nurse. She points out that the school taught her a lot about the fundamentals of nursing that go far beyond what she could learn from a book.
“The most important part of nursing school was the foundation,” she explains. “You can’t just become a nurse. You have to learn how to be a nurse, and you have to learn why you’re doing certain things. It takes the entire two years of the program to understand the process.”
Registered nurses oftentimes want to move up the career ladder and work in management-level positions. The Bachelor of Science in nursing program at the college allows nurses to advance to leadership roles at a medical facility.
After earning her degree in August, Bass was hired as a clinical assistant III in dermatology by Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. For Bass, getting her degree at IRSC was a no-brainer because the school is close to home, plus it offers flexible class schedules and affordable tuition compared with a university. She also says that the program helped further her nursing education by developing communication, leadership and research skills she uses in the workplace.
Many IRSC graduates continue their education and attend graduate schools elsewhere to become nurse practitioners and other advanced nursing professionals. A number even return to teach nursing at the college.
“About 20 to 30 percent of our faculty right now are graduates and we love that, and they love IRSC,” Gagliano says. “A lot of students come back because they want to give back.”
So what’s the attraction that gravitates students to the nursing program and makes it so successful?
Perhaps, it’s the affordability of IRSC with 91% of students graduating with no debt. Or maybe because it targets nontraditional, working students and effectively graduates and prepares them to enter the medical workforce.
Not only that, the college was the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Aspen Award that recognizes outstanding achievement among community colleges throughout the nation.
Moore explains the key to the school’s success that drives students toward excellence.
“It’s about culture – people who are dedicated to the proposition to educate students, no matter where they are,” he notes. “As long as our students don’t quit, we don’t quit. Our people are dedicated to that.”
Having a student-focused mission that changes lives in South Florida is really what the college is all about. It’s no wonder that students compete for a coveted spot in the nursing program. With the expansion just around the corner, its outreach will be even more impactful.
“These students, once they leave, are people that we interact with in the community,” Gagliano says. “They are the ones who will be taking care of our families. And it’s that draw of care of community and love for community and love for the mission that is unique about this institution. With that culture, it transcends through each division. Especially in nursing, it is alive and well – and that is what makes us very different and unique.
March 16, 2022