Entering the new century, Santa Barbara was facing a projected nursing shortage, and the cost of living here was making it difficult to retain nurses. In a step to proactively address the issue, Cottage Health System, with the vision of Chief Nursing Officer Herb Geary, MBA, BSN, RN, FACHE, sought a partnership with a university nursing program offering students a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
"It was critical that we develop our workforce through partnerships with educational institutions," he says, adding that the overall complexity of patient care has increased and contributes to the need for highly skilled BSN graduates to provide safe acute-level care.
The perfect partner was found in Karen Jensen, RN, PhD, chair of the nursing program at California State University Channel Islands and leader with the experience of establishing two other nursing programs during her 46-year career.
"In my years driving from Ventura to LA, I had a dream to get a BSN program in my neck of the woods," says Dr. Jensen. "I feel very blessed to be able to do something like this. I never imagined that I'd have the opportunity to start not one, but three nursing programs in my career." She chuckles as she passes a classroom filled with first-semester nurses standing and looking pointedly downward as they feel their sides... "Anatomical landmarks," she explains. "They're finding their hips."
Before the CSU Channel Islands Nursing Program was established in Camarillo, BSN students from the Santa Barbara area had to go to Los Angeles or Bakersfield or San Francisco. But even commuting to Camarillo is a lot of hours on the road for full-time students already committed to many hours of class work and study in addition to their home and work lives-most hold jobs apart from being a full-time student. The Goleta campus gives area students an opportunity closer to home.
"The nice thing about our partnership with Cottage is that the program is exactly like the main university campus [CSU Channel Islands] program in Camarillo. When we entered this agreement I committed to producing the best nurses, and I get to do that with the support of Cottage, with a wonderful, state-of-the-art facility and with a curriculum design that's already proven successful," observes Dr. Jensen.
"It allows me to develop critical thinking and graduate well-rounded nurses. And in Santa Barbara they have the unique advantage of studying in a lab that uses the exact systems for documentation and medication administration as those in the Cottage Health System hospitals, the very hospitals in which they want to work." That, combined with rotations at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, makes these nurses uniquely prepared to begin work at Cottage, with very little learning curve.
"The same is true for the excellent ADN [Associate Degree in Nursing] program at Santa Barbara City College," notes Dr. Jensen, referring to a program that also collaborates closely with Cottage to give students clinical experience and provides Cottage an opportunity to recruit local nursing talent. "We're not competing programs but complementary programs that offer students a wide option of choices for beginning or advancing their careers in nursing. It serves the community well."
It's the goal of the CSU Channel Islands Nursing Program at Cottage Health System: to educate nurses who will care for the Santa Barbara community in the decades to come. All of the students are local residents. Cottage data shows that nurses hired who are from this area will average more than 20 years with Cottage.
"It's nice that they live in this community, because of the amount of work-reading and studying-they have to do outside of class. It's intense and definitely cuts into the amount of social time they have," says Dr. Jensen. "Going through this program with a group of 'cohorts' helps them get support with studies and gives them a built-in social network. With small classes, too, there's camaraderie and a real feeling that they don't want anyone to fail. They feel comfortable to discuss, critique and learn in a safe environment. And they pull together to help each other-that's the essence right there. It's truly what nursing is all about."
Student Melissa Hurtado agrees, "We formed good solid friendships really fast because nursing school consumes so much of our lives. Nursing is not easy. It's tougher-but also more fun-than I expected."
With her family, her employer, her school and her community behind her, Melissa feels the support she needs to succeed.
"When the program had its grand opening event and we saw so many people from the hospital and the school, and leaders from the community come to the open house, it was a huge morale boost...we felt all of those people rooting for us and it was a great feeling."