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UVA's Fast Track for Nurses Named Number One in the Nation

Christine Kueter - UVA

Nurses are on the front lines of the fight against COVID, and while most have access to protective gear, some have gotten sick. Others are burned out by the intense pace of work during a pandemic. 

At the University of Virginia, a special program aims to expand the number of nurses by encouraging people in search of a new career. 

UVA’s Clinical Nurse Leader program is open to those already in the field, wanting to get a master’s degree and to those who chose a different path in life.

“We take people with degrees in biology, psychology, accounting, art history, law – any previous degree, and we turn them into nurses,” says nursing professor Emily Drake. She adds that people from other disciplines have proven especially good candidates.

“We love them, because they bring new ideas and new perspectives, and they bring the gifts that they learned in their other profession,"  she explains.  "That accounting major might be a great nurse-unit manager who knows how to balance a multi-million dollar budget, or that art history major might be great at dong healthcare graphics and patient education.”

Wayne Yee, for example, studied computer science and worked in IT for a decade, but during that time his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“We had a home health nurse come in to take care of my mother, and so she taught me a few things," he recalls. "It felt good – it felt right to take care of your own mother, the person that’s been taking care of me.”

Credit Christine Kueter - UVA
As a paramedic, Alice Thompson discovered the joys of patient care. Now, she's training to be a nurse.

Alice Thompson also enjoyed patient care when she volunteered as a paramedic, but she studied English and political science before getting a masters in public policy.  Now she thinks all three fields will prove useful when she begins work as a nurse.

“I think that you need to be able to communicate with people, so I’m glad I have my English degree," she explains. "I think you need to have your ear to the ground for what’s going on in politics, so I’m glad I got my politics in undergrad, and policy is everywhere.  You can’t move in a hospital without thinking about policy and how it effects public health.”

Because students may be older – with families and debt – the nursing school offers a good deal of financial aid, and Professor Drake says the training lasts just two years.

“We use every day of the week, including some nights and weekends, but we get it done.”

Two days are devoted to classes, but students spend at least three more days each week working in the hospital according to Nursing professor Sarah Craig.

“Our students are one-to-one with a practicing nurse, and that’s for 12-hour shifts.”

This is, of course, an unusual time to begin a career in medicine – fighting a pandemic, but Craig says the students are willing.

“We were concerned that maybe some students would decide not to start the program, but I think every single student that was accepted stayed.”

Credit RadioIQ
As a student nurse, Hannah Shaughnessy-Mogill found the work grounded her in the midst of a pandemic.

And student Hannah Shaughnessy-Mogill found the work calmed her.

“I had a hard time imagining what it would be like to try to learn while managing COVID anxiety and PPE," she confesses, "but what I found is that once I was in the clinical environment, I was able to hone in and focus on my patients, and I found that to be extremely grounding.”

The nursing school says this program has enabled it to attract more men, Hispanics and native Americans – people Professor Drake says are urgently needed.

“We really need to fill the ranks with more diversity.  We know our nursing profession needs to reflect the diversity of our patient population.”

And U.S. News and World Report concluded that UVA offered the top master’s degree in nursing through the Clinical Nurse Leader program.  

***Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief