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Published on May 03, 2023

On Health Care’s Front Lines

Eastern responds to nursing shortage

Nurse in hospital The current shortage of nurses in our nation is evident to varying degrees across all 50 states, and Connecticut is certainly part of this trend. Nationally, we will need 1.2 million new registered nurses (RNs) by 2030. There are almost 200,000 new openings annually across the country, with 3,000 of those occurring in Connecticut.

While 3,000 new nurses are needed each year in the state, Connecticut’s nursing schools are graduating only 1,900 new candidates, according to the Governor’s Workforce Council. It is estimated that the state’s nursing programs are able to admit only 25% of applicants due to the lack of faculty and clinical placements.

In 2022, Gov. Ned Lamont introduced the Connecticut Health Horizons project, a three-year, $35 million program to address the nursing shortage. Eastern Connecticut State University will receive $1.2 million from the initiative to equip and staff a new Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, scheduled to start in fall 2023.

Hartford HealthCare is Eastern’s active partner in the new program. To provide essential hands-on instruction, a clinical simulation lab is being constructed at Windham Hospital, with Hartford Health-Care providing the renovated space and funds from the state grant being used to purchase necessary equipment. Three full-time faculty necessary to staff the new program will also be hired with funds from the Connecticut Health Horizons initiative.

“I applaud our state officials for their response to the critical nursing shortage in Connecticut and beyond,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “This $1.2 million grant provides a crucial infusion of funds to jump-start our nursing program, and we are very grateful for that support. I am also pleased that we have Hartford HealthCare as our working partner on this initiative. With their support, our students will receive important hands-on instruction as well as invaluable clinical placements as they get ready for professional nursing positions. We will not only be part of the solution to the nursing shortage, Eastern will be preparing dozens of nursing students for rewarding, meaningful careers.”

nursing mannikin

State-of-the-art medical manikins will provide Eastern students opportunities to practice a range of hands-on nursing skills.

The Board of Regents of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities will be asked to approve the new major later this spring. If approval is granted, Eastern hopes to enroll its first nursing students in the fall 2023 semester. The simulation lab at Windham Hospital is planned for a spring 2025 opening in time for the students’ second semester of their sophomore year.

In addition to providing simulation lab facilities, Hartford HealthCare will be active in the program in other ways — nursing staff will serve as adjunct professors, and area medical offices will provide clinical rotations for students. “Hartford HealthCare is pleased to work with Eastern to create a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program,” said Dr. Rocco Orlando, senior vice president and chief academic officer at Hartford HealthCare. “Connecticut faces a profound nursing shortage and this program will help alleviate that.”

Eastern’s new four-year baccalaureate degree in nursing will be cohort-based; the first group of  students enrolled this coming fall will  progress through the program at the same time. Courses planned for the major include biology, chemistry and biochemistry, as well as human anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and nutrition for nursing. Specialty areas will include maternal and newborn care nursing, geriatric nursing, psychiatric and mental health nursing, and community and public health nursing.

Along with science classes, courses in nursing practice and hands-on learning experiences, students in the new B.S.N. program will gain leadership and decision-making skills while also becoming patient advocates who are knowledgeable about health care disparities among vulnerable populations.

Equipment that will be used by nursing students on campus includes a virtual dissection table; a skills/demonstration lab; high-fidelity simulators — manikins that mimic human physiology; and specialized manikins for trauma, birthing and pediatrics. The simulation lab being built at Windham Hospital by Hartford Health-Care will provide additional clinical training, with Eastern earmarking $500,000 from the new state grant for laboratory equipment.

“Our faculty are excited about the opportunity to provide instruction and guidance to prepare students for careers as professional nurses,” said Yaw Nsiah, professor and chair of the Department of Health Sciences. “With Eastern’s expert faculty and outstanding teaching facilities, coupled with the support from our partners at Hartford HealthCare, we look forward to launching our Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree this coming fall.”

Students completing the degree are eligible to take the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses. The program will also seek accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Connecticut State Board of Nurse Examiners. Graduates can look forward to an exciting, rewarding career, with RNs being among the Top 20 Best Jobs, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Connecticut Health Horizons is financed through the federal American Rescue Plan Act–Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds awarded to the State of Connecticut by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

Eastern nurses already serving patients

Even as Eastern partners with Hartford HealthCare to prepare for the new bachelor of science in nursing degree, alumni from other majors have gone on to receive their nursing credentials and are caring for patients throughout Connecticut and beyond.

emily lodigiani
Michelle Lodigiani

Michele Lodigiani ’13 earned her communication degree at Eastern before receiving her B.S.N. at the University of Connecticut. Today she works in the intensive care unit at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital inNew London. “My liberal arts background (at Eastern) ensured I had the evaluative and critical thinking skills required for a nursing career. During my time at Eastern, I was also able to participate in clubs and activities — Habitat for Humanity, People Helping People — which allowed me to serve the community and fostered my interest in a career assisting others.”

Lodigiani loves “getting to be an advocate for those in need and being able to make a difference in someone’s life on a daily basis. I also love that I can use my skills in a variety of settings and the schedule allows for a great deal of flexibility.”

“A B.S.N. program at Eastern would provide eastern Connecticut, and our state as a whole, with highly qualified professionals who will ensure our residents receive quality, professional care,” she said.

amanda copeland
Amanda Copeland

A successful liver transplant received by her father inspired Amanda (Eakin) Copeland ’16 to become a nurse and work in the Kidney and Liver Transplant surgery unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. Today she works for Hartford HealthCare, supporting and teaching the electronic health record (EHR) system to clinical staff and health care providers.

What makes nursing so rewarding? “I wanted to make a difference in not only patients’ lives but also their family members.”

A graduate of the University of Connecticut’s nursing program, Copeland says her time at Eastern was the foundation of her nursing career.

“While completing challenging courses within the Health Sciences Department, I was very involved in campus life as a resident assistant, participated in a global field internship in Ghana, acted as a peer mentor for first-year students, served as co-president of the Pre-Health Society and volunteered my time in the Willimantic community through various com-munity service projects … Eastern taught me so many life lessons … and allowed me to see different perspectives that made me a compassionate nurse … I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without attending Eastern.”

Babatunde Olatinwo ’12 graduated with a degree in biology and earned his nursing degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He works in the post-op recovery room at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. “The biology faculty at Eastern are great — so knowledgeable and engaged. I took my anatomy and physiology course at Eastern. The lab courses prepared me well for nursing school. I was also in the Biology Club.”

Babatunde Olatinwo
Babatunde Olatinwo

What motivates him? “It’s gratifying to provide hands-on care for patients during their most vulnerable moments.” Olatinwo notes that nurses are with patients more than any other health care professionals. 

Bryan Frankovitch ’17 graduated from Eastern with a health sciences major, also serving as co-president of the Pre-Health Society on campus. He then earned his nursing degree in the University of Connecticut’s accelerated nursing program. Frankovitch now works in Hartford Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as a Registered Nurse III, not only taking care of his own critically ill patients, but also serving frequently as the resource (charge) nurse overseeing all patient care in the ICU. Last year he became Board Certified in Critical Care and Cardiac Medicine and is also working toward his Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

“Nurses are the backbone that keeps (the health care system) afloat, pushes for progress, and advocates for patients, while simultaneously performing clinically and being there emotionally for our patients,” said Frankovitch. “As the population is living longer and many more people live long lives with chronic health conditions, nurses are the ones who take care of them and their families.”

Bryan Franklovitch

His patients “are typically on ventilators, have many complications, and I am responsible for managing the technology and medicines used to keep them alive. I am tasked with running continuous dialysis, titrating cardioactive and sedative medications, assessing and evaluating patients, performing patient care tasks, collecting and interpreting lab results, and updating families, among many other things. We work as part of an interdisciplinary team of physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses and support staff. When I am working as the ICU Resource Nurse, I also respond to 'Rapid Responses' (emergencies on non-ICU units) throughout the hospital and am often the first to initiate resuscitative efforts and work with the team to stabilize the patient and move them to the ICU or the area best suited to their needs.”

What inspires him to be a nurse? “I love working in a challenging environment that requires a lot of critical thinking. I enjoy that I get to constantly improve my practice and learn something new every day. I love to serve as a resource for colleagues, patients and families. I also get to have an immense impact on people’s lives. I have treated thousands of patients over the years, and it is amazing to hear from some of them through cards or letters or word of mouth and realize the impact I had on them.”

emily fulton
Emily Fulton

Emily Fulton ’20 is a registered nurse in the Progressive Care Unit at Backus Hospital in Norwich. She graduated in 2021 from the University of Connecticut’s accelerated B.S.N. program. “The classes I took at Eastern challenged me and gave me the tools needed to succeed in a fast- paced program.”

As a health sciences major at Eastern, Fulton learned “about different aspects of the medical field until I found one that suited me the best.” She notes that nurses “are the ones who notice acute changes in our patients first.” 

“I have a wide range of patients who need close monitoring. The unit has predominantly cardiac, neurologic and respiratory patients. I have patients who have had a stroke to patients who are on a tracheostomy ventilator. The days and moments where you truly see the difference made in someone’s life are the reasons why I became a nurse. I love being a patient’s advocate and being there to take care of them when they need it the most.” 

A B.S.N. program at Eastern “will give more opportunities for students to become nurses and hopefully stay in this part of the state too,” said Fulton.

Jenny Cespedes graduated from Eastern 2017 with a degree in business administration. During her first job out of college at Connecticare, a healthcare insurance company, “I started to realize I wanted to make more of an impact” as a nurse. Jenny graduated from New York University’s accelerated nursing program in 2021.  

Jenny Cespedes

“I became a nurse during the COVID pandemic. Nurses are so important in all communities. They are compassionate, caring and are the backbone of healthcare. Nurses at the bedside should be given so much credit for all the hard work they do. The job is mentally and physically exhausting but at the end of the day I leave my shift knowing I made a difference in a family member’s life.   

“I work in the heart of the New York City at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital. I am going on a little over a year as a full-time nurse and I don’t regret the journey it took for me to get here. I am so thankful to be surrounded by brilliant, educated nurses who strive to be better each day. We truly care about our patient outcomes. The reason I applied to work at Memorial Sloan is because when I was in high school my mother was diagnosed with gastric cancer (she is now in remission) and I knew I wanted to help those in this same vulnerable state.” 

Written by Ed Osborn