By Vanessa Orr

The United States is facing a critical nursing shortage; studies estimate that more than 1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2030. In Florida, the situation is dire—the Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida reports that the state will face a shortfall of 59,100 nurses by 2035.

In order to increase the number of nurses in the workforce, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) introduced the Second Degree Working Professional Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2019. Offered at FAU’s Davie Campus, this program allows individuals who have previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in other areas to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

“A lot of people talk about having an interest in nursing, but they didn’t pursue it because they took other career paths,” explained Safiya George, Ph.D., APRIN-BC, FAANP, dean and professor, Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, Florida Atlantic University. “The biggest barrier to them going back to school is that they can’t commit to a full-time program; they have families to support and need to be able to work full-time to live.”

Safiya George, Ph.D., APRIN-BC, FAANP

The second degree program at FAU is offered part-time on weekday evenings and weekends, and students attend classes in person during the week, or watch live streams online. Skills labs and hands-on assessments are done in person, as are clinical rotations.

“While we haven’t targeted any specific industries, we are seeing a lot of interest from social workers, people in banking and finance, teachers, and those with healthcare administration degrees who have the desire to be in actual patient care,” said George.

The two-year program graduated its first cohort this past August, and expects to graduate approximately 80 students each year.

“As you can imagine, there are already more employment opportunities for nurses than there are nurses; some students in this last rotation already had employers contacting them with opportunities,” said George.

“Anyone who wants a job after they pass their licensing exam can find opportunities here in Florida, as well as in other states,” she continued. “And if they decide to do something else, such as take a position in nurse staffing, those jobs are available even before they take the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses).”

FAU has a number of pilot programs available to help graduates land positions once they earn their licenses. “We work with one healthcare system that commits to hiring our nurses if they’ve done their rotations there,” said George. “At a different healthcare system, students can submit an application to be hired as nurse externs, so they are learning patient care technician skills while in nursing school; when they finish, they can apply to become registered nurses on-site.”

FAU also offers other options to help individuals get into the nursing field, from the freshman direct admit program for high school seniors, to a fulltime course for those with previous degrees that follows an accelerated track. In addition, the university offers a number of healthcare-related courses for the broader population, including a telehealth course that shows students how to implement that technology and connect with patients on a deeper level.

Not only is FAU seeing a lot of interest in the second degree program, but George said that she is seeing increased interest in the field of nursing as well.

“We’re really seeing a mix of things right now; while some nurses are burned out and retire or leave the field entirely, surprisingly, a lot of people want to get into nursing now because of the pandemic—they realize the importance of improving patient outcomes,” she said.

“They’re the ones who say, ‘Sign me up, I want to join the front lines,’ because they are excited about what nurses are doing,” she continued. “They see it as a way for them to make a difference, to help those other healthcare heroes who are on the front lines.”

Spring classes for the Second Degree Working Professional Bachelor of Science in Nursing program begin Jan. 8, 2022, with applications closing Nov. 1. The fall 2022 application period opens Feb. 1 and closes April 9, 2022. For more information, visit https://nursing.fau.edu/admissions/index.php.