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Growing and diversifying Dominican University’s nursing program will continue through a new partnership and a new class of future nurses. 

In January, a first group of juniors in the Elizabeth T. MacNeil School of Nursing will join Rush Oak Park Hospital’s new Dedicated Education Unit (DEU) as part of their clinical training. Guided by Rush instructors, Dominican students will immerse themselves in the role of a nurse, providing patient care in a 39-bed, medical-surgical unit during a rotation that can span eight to 16 weeks.

The students will have their own dedicated workspace separate from the nurse’s station and have access to the hospital’s simulation lab to practice procedures like administering IV lines and using cardiac monitors. 

The goal is to equip students with authentic experiences while graduating new nurses to help address a growing nursing shortage locally and across the country. 

“Our students want to work in small institutions where they can make a difference and have an impact—and Rush Oak Park is that institution,” said Dr. Tamara Bland, dean of Dominican University’s Borra College of Health Sciences, who originated the proposal of the DEU for nursing students. “Rush Oak Park is a more intimate, community hospital and the students will be able to see the impact they are having.” 

The DEU model of nursing education partners schools and medical facilities to provide students with necessary clinical nursing training and enhanced learning from educators and clinical service providers within their community. 

The model also allows students to act as peer educators. When juniors become seniors, they will partner with a new cohort of junior nursing students, each working side-by-side with the same patients, while the seniors take on a leadership role. 

“Partnering with Dominican University expands our capacity to educate the nurses of tomorrow,” said Angela Cooper, chief nursing officer at Rush Oak Park. “It helps ensure we have well-educated, well-trained and skilled nurses to meet the growing health care needs of the communities we serve.” 

Having students working and learning at the hospital can lead to employment there once they complete their education. In turn, Dominican hopes the DEU will attract adjunct faculty from Rush’s pool of clinical educators who are leading students in the DEU. 

According to a report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a shortage in nursing school faculty is a contributing factor impacting the workforce. Increased retirements, more nurses leaving the profession due to insufficient staffing and job stress, an aging population, and slow growth in nursing school enrollment are also fueling nursing shortages. 

Dominican hopes to further contribute to growth within the field by launching a second cohort of nursing students in January. This cohort of approximately 24 new juniors will allow both legacy and transfer students who are unable to begin their studies in the fall to enroll without waiting another year. “We are trying to connect students with the profession as soon as possible. And this new cohort does that,” Bland said. “Because there is an increased demand for nurses in the Chicago area and in community hospitals, we are hoping this cohort will help fill some gaps in that demand, as most of our students who graduate have job offers before they take their NCLEX exam.”