For the first time, students at the University of St. Thomas can earn a nursing degree, thanks to a new health college that was quietly launched during the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health crisis has added urgency and purpose to the fledgling program, named Morrison Family College of Health.
Today, 46 new graduate nursing students are enrolled, preparing for a degree that is urgently needed in a healthcare system disrupted by the pandemic.
“There’s been excitement for a long time, and now that it’s become a reality, it’s a point of pride,” said Martha Scheckel, founding director of the School of Nursing.
The Morrison Family College of Health, located in the Summit Classroom Building on UST’s St. Paul campus, was named and officially established in late 2019 with a $25 million gift from John M. Morrison and Susan Schmid Morrison , a Florida-based couple who have generous longtime donors in St. Thomas. They shared the university’s vision of a holistic college that trains health care providers and leaders to meet the physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of their patients, the trustees said.
The college has four departments, three of which already existed at St. Thomas: social work; psychology; health and exercise science; and nursing, the new addition. This fall, the nursing program was launched at the graduate level. Next fall, it will begin offering undergraduate courses. Leaders hope to add a medical assistant program to the school in the future.
Once the nursing program is fully operational, the college expects a combined total enrollment of 1,250 undergraduate and graduate students, which would double the enrollment of the three preexisting programs and make Morrison Family College of Health the third largest college in St. Thomas. . The college is headed by MayKao Hang, the founding dean.
Morrison was designed to be interdisciplinary, allowing students in one program to learn from others. Hang and Scheckel design courses that incorporate these programs. For example, new nursing students join social work students for a comprehensive wellness course.
“Now we’re co-located with social work, so we see social work professors in the hallway and there’s cross-collaboration happening even in day-to-day communication,” Scheckel said. “It makes holes in the silos. We can inspire each other.
Nurses who have comprehensive interprofessional education are linked to patient safety and quality outcomes, she added.
Shaped by COVID
This has been on full display during the pandemic, which has shaped every element of nursing school development.
“It fueled passion, purpose and urgency,” Scheckel said.
For starters, COVID has exacerbated the nursing shortage, reaching a level it’s never seen before. “It’s the perfect time for the School of Nursing,” she says.
On a more subtle level, the pandemic has guided their planning. “It informed how we do our work and how we prepare students to enter practice,” Scheckel said.
For example, new nursing students learn self-care and resilience, important training in a time of widespread burnout among nurses. Scheckel practices what she preaches: She is working with the YMCA to launch a health coaching program for faculty and staff. “It will be part of a larger initiative to say, ‘Here’s the focus we need to model this for students.
For Scheckel, who has regular practices around getting enough sleep, healthy eating and regular exercise, this “tune-up” can center on spiritual renewal.
“I try to find ways to recharge myself,” she said. “They have mass here at noon, so there are days when I go to mass. It’s very centered. If you connect spirituality, you are always recharged on mission and purpose and why you are here, at this particular time in your life, doing what looks like God’s work.
Another by-product of the pandemic: it has resulted in a more fluid adaptation of technology. Nursing students benefit from an iPad program that gives them “everything they need right at their fingertips,” Scheckel said.
From the start, Morrison Family College of Health’s goal has been to train healthcare professionals who understand that body, mind and soul are connected — a Catholic belief that resonates with nurses, Scheckel said. .
“It’s always been a no-brainer for us,” she said. “The nurses take care of the whole person. Since there seems to be a strong focus on acute care, we are placing more emphasis on community and public health care in all dimensions. It creates a different way of seeing people, an expanded worldview that is not limited to just one course, but very intentional partnerships.
For example, nursing students partner with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, a nonprofit organization that aims to create a clean, safe, and vibrant downtown. “By having students on hand to help educate the public or do a community assessment, we can increase our engagement and visibility in keeping an eye on health,” Dr. Scheckel said.
For the early students of nursing school, this holistic focus was a big draw.
It’s one of the main reasons Christopher-Jerell Edwards, a 28-year-old nurse from Missouri, signed up. “A holistic view of health care is something I strive to provide to my patients, even now as an NA. Everything is connected — to treat a person physically, spiritually, psychologically. I appreciate that St. Thomas is taking the initiative to integrate these dimensions, as they were meant to be.
Edwards said he was guided by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid of needs starting with basic physiological needs such as food, shelter and sleep, and working towards self-actualization. Sometimes a patient arriving at the emergency room needs a sandwich or warm clothes, he said. When caring for a man near death, for example, he sensed that the head nurse was busy and took it upon himself to be present with that patient. “He wanted someone to sit with him and be right at that time. I was there when he died. Not everyone who goes into healthcare has the gift of being able to just listen to a patient, of having an open attitude where patients feel accepted and able to talk to you.
COVID underscored the need for this approach, he said. “Let’s look at this person as a whole, not as a series of checkboxes before we can fire them. I want to be a leader who understands that we are here to treat patients as people. COVID has shown me how broken a system we have. I want to participate in creating a better system.
His classmate, Sarah Abuisnaineh, a 25-year-old from Brooklyn Park, agreed. “There needs to be a huge shift, a more holistic approach to health care,” she said. “I feel compelled to be part of the solution.”
Abuisnaineh holds a degree in Child Psychology and currently works as a caregiver, working in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. This fall, his instructors are teaching him to really see his patients. “We learn about patient well-being and how to notice the little things that other nurses might not notice, how to really be there for them emotionally, and how to communicate with them,” she said.
The emphasis on collaboration between other departments is also appreciated, said Abuisnaineh, who makes it a point to communicate with the social worker on site.
She aspires to get her doctorate after finishing nursing school at St. Thomas. “I know this program will prepare me for that,” she said. “It’s amazing to be in the very first class. It’s better than I even imagined.
Scheckel shares his enthusiasm. “To see this spectacular group of students come in has been very rewarding, helping to write this chapter of life at St. Thomas. I want to thank the university and everyone who saw this through to the end so much.
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