There is an old saying about nurses that says just about everything you can say about this tireless profession. “A nurse,” it goes, “dispenses comfort, compassion, and caring without even a prescription.” The aphorism is stressed every day by faculty at Colorado State University-Pueblo where nursing has become one of the school’s crown jewels.
While the four-year program has been a way to keep high quality nurses in Southern Colorado’s health care system for a number of years, its renown is also attracting candidates from throughout Colorado. “We’re admitting about 130 students on average per year,” said Dr. Joe Franta, Associate Dean of the CSU-Pueblo School of Nursing. The undergraduate program, he said, “is very competitive.”
In addition to students from Colorado and the region, there has been an international flavor added to the program in recent years. “We typically have two or three (international students) at any given time,” said Franta. The most recent class included candidates from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The CSU-Pueblo nursing program’s popularity coincides with a shortage of nurses in Colorado and nationwide. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there has been a nursing shortage for the last several years. Supply has fallen well short of demand, due in no small part to the aging of baby boomers, many of whom have retired from the nursing profession. Boomers also figure into the need for more nurses because they, themselves, are now requiring more health services.
Because of the economic intersection of supply and demand, salaries for nurses have increased nationally. Franta said that a nurse with advanced training can expect to earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year. Nurses working in Pueblo or the (Denver) metro area, he said, can expect salaries to come “pretty close” to national averages. In Pueblo, Franta said he’s seen a ‘bump up’ in local nursing salaries.
CSU-Pueblo nursing graduates also aren’t waiting long for job offers, said Franta. “Most of our students have jobs before they graduate,” he said. “Our employment rates are 95-97 percent.”
Two elements of the program include psychiatric and gerontology nursing, said Franta. Both disciplines are included in the graduate program. Right now, “we’re at capacity demand” in psychiatry. Two reasons for this upshot are job openings and salaries. “Psychiatric nurses are in demand,” and there are jobs for this category of nurse “anywhere in the nation.” Franta said a nurse with this certification can expect “probably $100,000 or more.”
The program’s relationship with the Army has also been a symbiotic boon. “We work with the Army,” said Franta, noting that Fort Carson is only a 30-minute drive from the CSU-Pueblo campus. A special Department of Defense flat rate tuition for enlisted personnel allows candidates to attend if they pledge to remain in the Army on active duty service.
Nursing students in the program are taught in the school’s practice labs. The labs are recreated in as realistic a way as possible and outfitted with the same equipment, supplies and ‘patients,’ as exist in a real hospital environment. Patients are manikins. “Simulation is a high-tech process,” said Franta. “You can start IV’s, put chest tubes in (manikins), learn ultrasound. It’s practice on things that a student has the opportunity to get practical training.” It also helps prepare them for internships in local hospitals where more practical experience is gained.
Because rural southern Colorado is fighting the same issues as much of the country in attracting and retaining high quality staff, Franta said the CSU-Pueblo program has become indispensable. “We have a focus on our region,” he said. “Our students are snapped up no matter if they’re undergrad or graduate students.” Another factor working in the school’s and the student’s favor is that a number of nursing candidates come to Pueblo from the same rural communities they want to return to. “Our value,” said Franta, “is cost, education and location.” Nearly 60 percent of “our nurses last year stayed in southeastern Colorado.”
For more than a half century, the university has been training nurses. Its first class was admitted in 1964. It has evolved dramatically and in the Fall of 2020, Franta said, a doctoral program in nursing will begin.