By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Cecily Morales dreamed of becoming a nurse, but it was a dream that seemed just out of her reach.
She applied to nursing programs in California three times. Three times, she did not get in.
So she changed paths and earned her bachelor’s degree in public health, working as an operating room and patient care coordinator in Fremont, California, and in remote clinical customer support.
Then the pandemic hit and the world fell apart as doctors, nurses and others in the health care community tried to stitch it back together.
But she still was working in health care, often alongside nurses. She saw their dedication, especially during the pandemic. “If anything, it motivates me to want to be a nurse even more,” she said.
About a year ago, Morales heard about Grand Canyon University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program through a former co-worker who studied at the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions’ West Valley site in Sun City, near Phoenix.
When she found out GCU was opening an ABSN site in Utah, she was in.
She liked the accelerated, hybrid structure of the program and, with the flexibility of online classes, she could schedule school around her other commitments.
“The option to go to the new campus near Salt Lake City was kind of the cherry on top. Utah is a beautiful state, and I’ve never had the opportunity to live outside of California,” said Morales, who is among the first eight students at the University's new ABSN site in Sandy, Utah, about 13 miles south of Salt Lake City.
The location is GCU’s third ABSN site — the first outside of Arizona — following the 2020 opening of locations in Sun City and Tucson.
Students are about a month into the 16-month program, which began May 9 and offers a pathway for those who already have a bachelor’s degree, or who have at least 60 transferrable hours of college credit, to “re-career” and become nurses.
“They’re just an amazing group of students,” said Miranda Malone, Director of Nursing Services for the Utah ABSN site. “Honestly, it’s been a pleasure to work with them. It’s been really fun to get in the classroom with them.”
Malone has worked at the Utah site alongside immersive simulation facilitator Dr. Lisa Looney. Malone, Looney and all on-site faculty head to GCU’s main campus in west Phoenix to train, onboard and familiarize themselves with the curriculum before helming classes in Utah.
Other staff members teaching the online didactic portions of the program include ABSN didactic course leads Dr. Carolyn Howard, Dr. Yuliya Malishkin, Dr. Amber Gentry and Rachel Jensen.
Besides offering a pathway into nursing school for students, such as Morales, who have a degree in another profession, the program also gives traditional college students who weren’t offered a spot in nursing school another avenue to getting their nursing degree.
Although there is no shortage of students wanting to go into the profession, colleges are having to turn away applicants. In 2019, more than 80,000 qualified applicants were left behind, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, because of a lack of nursing faculty and available clinical placements.
Unlike in most traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, students on the ABSN track do not head to campus for their academic classes, instead taking those didactic courses online. But they complete their hands-on training onsite, going through skills labs and as-realistic-as-possible patient scenarios in immersive simulation labs. They also delve into clinical rotations, in which students interact with patients under the supervision of clinical faculty in health facilities.
Students in both the BSN and ABSN programs study the same material, with summer breaks eliminated for both programs so students can complete their work in just 16 months and enter the nursing pipeline faster.
“GCU is working to address the nursing shortage, and we’re trying to do that in markets where they’re looking for more nurses,” said Dr. Lisa Smith, Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.
GCU is one of the largest producers of nurses in Arizona, with 673 graduates in 2019-20 taking the National Council Licensure Exam, which they must pass to start working in the field.
According to a report published in May by the McKinsey consulting and advisory firm, the health care system could experience a shortage of between 200,000 and 450,000 nurses by as soon as 2025. The report, titled “Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on the Nursing Workforce,” shared that those numbers represent a shortage of between 10% and 20% of the nurses needed to care for all the patients in the system.
Morales and the fellow students in her cohort aim to be a few of those nurses stepping up to fill those spots.
“We all came together as complete strangers with the same goal, and I know we are going to leave as lifelong friends,” said Morales. She added that the support she has received from Malone and Looney at the Utah site has been invaluable. “They share a genuine interest in our success in the program,” she said.
The first ABSN students graduated from the Tucson and West Valley sites in December. Students at the Utah site are expected to graduate in fall 2023, Morales among them as she takes steps to becoming an acute care or intensive care nurse.
“There is an immense sense of pride with becoming a nurse,” Morales said. “It takes a unique, determined and dedicated individual to want to put themselves at risk to care for the lives of others.”
Smith said the University aims to open a fourth ABSN site in Las Vegas, Nevada, in September.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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