Labs are bursting in the School of Nursing, with over 100 doctoral students and ten applicants per spot in the undergraduate program.

Labs are bursting in the School of Nursing, with over 100 doctoral students and ten applicants per spot in the undergraduate program.

Fortunately, an expansion plan is on the way.

Last year, the School of Nursing faculty knew they needed to revise the Master’s of Science in Nursing program.

“Our graduates had no problem finding jobs. In fact, they ended up in some very cool positions,” said Sally Gerard, graduate program director. But with healthcare delivery changing — and nurses increasingly running the show — the master’s program had to produce graduates better able to step into the leadership positions evolving in the new healthcare landscape. So they rethought the program, adding courses in business, education, counseling, and economics. It became the perfect degree for nurses who want to explore careers in management, as clinical nurse leaders, risk managers, or care coordination roles that nurses are moving into.

The target enrollment for the new program was 16 students. “We got 28,” said Dr. Gerard.

The overwhelming numbers were welcome, but not unexpected for the School of Nursing, which has become used to juggling schedules, tight classroom space, and faculty to accommodate growing numbers of students in both the traditional undergraduate and the graduate programs.

Ten years ago, the School enrolled 50 undergraduate students each year. This year, 1064 applied for the 100 or so spots in the first year class. Four years ago, the doctorate of nursing practice program didn’t exist; today, it enrolls over 100.

Currently, the School is in the planning stages for an expansion and renovation of their facilities in order to meet anticipated needs.

In part the growth is due to the School’s glowing reputation. “I have hired many Fairfield University graduates, both from the undergraduate and graduate programs, and they are always well-prepared professionals,” said Moreen Donahue, DNP, RN, FAAN, chief nursing officer for Western Connecticut Health Network. “They possess critical thinking skills and they understand the importance of professionalism and service excellence. And I find they can appreciate the values of clinical excellence, respect, teamwork, and integrity that we hold here.”

Learning to work in a team is essential to today’s nursing education, as healthcare has moved increasingly to a team-centered approach to healthcare delivery. “

A patient might have a cardiologist, a gynecologist, and a physical therapist,” explained the Dean of the School of Nursing, Dr. Lynn Babington. “Those professionals don’t speak to each other. It’s the nurse on the team who is being asked to step up to the plate and coordinate care. He or she needs to take a leadership position to guide care for the good of the patient.”

This “almost mandates” new teaching areas in the School of Nursing Dr. Babington continued, noting that the current facility was built in 1977. Instead of classrooms, Dr. Babington speaks of new learning spaces that she calls “collaboratories,” where teams of students gather together around a common core teaching platform or laboratory environment, perhaps with a computer screen at each space. Teaching then becomes more interactive  — designed for group work.

The School of Nursing’s Simulation Lab is state-of-the-art, Dr. Babington said, but the configuration of the space is not ideal. “Students bump into one another when they run a scenario. It’s impossible to get a whole class in the room at once.”

Dr. Gerard agrees. “On a graduate level, new spaces would help us tremendously. One of the strengths we have at Fairfield is that our classes are right here on campus. We need to leverage that by providing students more spaces to gather informally to network and collaborate.”

Plus, she said, graduate-level courses “are all about the data.” And that means technological resources available in the classroom.

Fortunately, an expansion plan that includes an upgrade to the learning environments is underway, and is one of the universities top fund-raising priorities. The early design phase is near completion. The project led by Newman & RDG architects includes a new building that will house clinical learning and simulation labs, new “collaboratories” for interdisciplinary research, new classrooms and gathering areas for students and faculty.

The project also includes renovating the current SON building for faculty and administrative offices. Along with the Rudolph F. Bannow Science Center, these buildings form the Health Science Complex — where students and faculty will learn together and engage in cutting edge interdisciplinary research focused around health.

The key to the School of Nursing’s strength — and what is driving the expansion plan and the high demand for places — is the quality of faculty, Dr. Babington said.

“They’re exemplary. They are known nationally as leaders in their disciplines. They have close relationships with their students, and these relationships have resulted in undergraduate students working on research with faculty and being published in professional journals, which is very unusual.”

But to be the best they can be, “they need the space to do the work.”