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Nursing program enrollment grows as demand increases

Sandra Burke
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Training nurses Sandra Drozdz Burke is associate director of the Central Illinois Regional Program for the UI’s College of Nursing, which is based at the Chicago campus. Burke took over leadership of the College of Nursing at the Urbana campus in July. In addition to clinical practica at health-care agencies, student nurses perform a variety of community service projects, including teaching health education in schools and volunteering for the Annual Signature Chefs Auction fundraiser for the March of Dimes in Urbana.

Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that all 50 states will be feeling the pain of the shortage of nurses by 2015, in part as a result of older nurses retiring and the aging of the Baby Boom generation straining the health-care system.

The UIC College of Nursing on the UI’s Urbana campus increased the number of seats in its pre-licensure bachelor’s degree program from 48 to 56 last year, and plans to add another eight seats next year, according to Sandra Drozdz Burke, associate director of the Central Illinois Regional Program on the Urbana campus. The program on the Urbana campus is one of the regional sites – along with Rockford and Moline/Quad Cities  – for the UI’s College of Nursing, based at the Chicago campus.

“We don’t have any problem filling our slots,” Burke said. “Sadly, we have to turn a lot of qualified applicants away.”

Typically, there are about 800 applicants competing for admission to the pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing programs, which admit 128 transfer students at the junior level every fall and 48 graduate students to an accelerated program at UIC. Students who complete the GEP are eligible to take the licensure exam and often opt to move directly into the doctorate of nursing practice program.

Now 34 years old, the Urbana program recently was combined with the regional program serving the Peoria area. In addition to the BSN, the Central Illinois Regional Program offers a master’s degree, a doctorate of nursing practice degree that began in 2007, and supportive courses for the doctor of philosophy degree. Many of the graduate courses are offered online or through videoconferencing. The master’s programs, offered at all campuses, has an enrollment of 572 students, about 115 of them from the Central Illinois Regional Program.

The graduate programs offer numerous specialties, including nurse practitioner programs in acute care, adult/geriatric care and mental health.

Students in the Urbana BSN program attend classes on the Urbana campus and gain clinical experience through practice at health-care facilities and programs in the area. The program also encourages community service, and nursing students teach health education to elementary school children, among other service projects.

Admission to the BSN program is competitive, with the grade-point average of students admitted every year exceeding the minimum GPAs required – 2.75 in all college-level work and 2.00 in all natural science courses. To transfer into the program, students must have 57 prerequisite credits, including General Education courses as well as eight to 10 semester hours in human anatomy and physiology, in general chemistry and organic/biochemistry and other science courses.

The BSN program prepares students to take the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse.

“This year, our students’ pass rate for the NCLEX was 97 percent,” Burke said. “The national average is 88 percent.” 

The program’s strengths are many, Burke said, but include a strong support base of outstanding faculty members, a science-based curriculum that fosters critical thinking and leadership, and a learning environment that allows faculty members to get to know their students and helps students progress in a methodical way.

“Students who graduate are strong RNs but also believe in nursing. They epitomize nursing professionalism. They are leaders in nursing and in health care in general. It is so rewarding for us to have a small part in that,” said Burke, who is a registered nurse, an advanced practice registered nurse and holds a doctorate in nursing science. Burke was on the UI’s faculty from 1995-2005, then returned to the Urbana nursing program in July as associate director.

Burke has been recognized by the American Diabetes Association for her work as an educator and as a fundraiser. 

“Diabetes is a fascinating condition with unbelievable rewards,” said Burke, who worked for 15 years as a nurse at the American Diabetes Association’s children’s camp. “Diabetes requires a great deal of patient and family education, empowerment and support. Patients with chronic illnesses appreciate everything we do to help them work toward their goals. Their success is our success.”

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