GCU opens new ABSN site in Chandler, addresses nursing shortage

Guests toured the new East Valley ABSN Learning Site in Chandler at a grand opening Wednesday.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Matt Wombacher worked for 20 years in the banking and insurance industry.

“It was really a very fulfilling career, however, I realized I just wanted to get a little bit more out of my work,” Wombacher said. He decided nursing was what he was searching for and knew it would give him “the opportunity to give back to my community in a full way … and would continue to challenge me.”

Then the pandemic hit.

The new Chandler ABSN site, toured by guests on Wednesday, welcomed 47 nursing students this week.

“I think had I been making this decision right when all of this (COVID) hit, I’m not sure I would have been as willing to make this change,” he said of watching doctors and nurses and others in the health care industry slammed by COVID patients and burdened by long, challenging days.

Matthew Wombacher, a GCU ABSN alum, once worked in banking and insurance.

But Wombacher didn’t stray from his new path. He graduated in May from Grand Canyon University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in Sun City and started a new job in the Neurotrauma Progressive Care Unit at Phoenix’s Banner University Medical Center.

It’s the kind of story GCU wants to repeat, something it aims to do at its new East Valley ABSN Learning Site in Chandler. Through the ABSN program, the University is stepping up to graduate more nurses at a time when the nation is experiencing a dire nursing shortage.

The site, which opened with a ceremony Wednesday, is one of six GCU ABSN locations, joining two existing Arizona sites in Sun City and Tucson, one in Henderson, Nevada, and another in Sandy, Utah. The West Valley ABSN Learning Site in Phoenix, at GCU’s 27th Avenue and Camelback Road business complex, is set to officially open with a ceremony Sept. 18.

“Arizona alone will have greater than 195,000 RN (registered nurse) openings between now and 2031,” said GCU College of Nursing and Health Care Professions Dean Dr. Lisa Smith at Wednesday’s opening ceremony.

GCU President Brian Mueller (from left), Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions Dr. Lisa Smith and Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke cut the ceremonial ribbon alongside Chandler Chamber CEO & President Terri Kimble.

The accelerated, 16-month program is designed for students, such as Wombacher, who have a degree in another field or have some college credits and want to re-career. It offers a hybrid learning platform in which students, many of whom have families, jobs and other obligations, do their didactic learning online and then travel to lab sites, such as the one in Chandler, to get their hands-on experience.

That 16-month timeframe in the accelerated program means that students enter the workforce sooner, a boon to the industry and to the economic outlook of growing cities such as Chandler.

It’s also an alternate pathway for aspiring nurses who have been turned away from traditional nursing programs, which are challenged by a lack of nursing educators and enough clinical rotation spaces for the number of applicants.

Smith said the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that more than 66,000 qualified applicants were turned away from Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs in 2022 alone.

GCU President Brian Mueller gets a look at the facility's debriefing rooms and skills labs.

“We can solve this problem,” said GCU President Brian Mueller at the opening ceremony. “But we can’t solve the problem with small programs. We need large, scalable programs that can operate on a national basis.”

GCU’s ABSN program “is a very, very exciting thing,” he said, “because it’s (part of) the first nationally scaled program."

This week, more than 300 students will start their nursing program at GCU’s Arizona locations, Smith said.

Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions Dr. Lisa Smith greets nursing students.

With the workforce of registered nurses expected to grow by 6% between now and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Our Chandler site will be a great pipeline for the East Valley,” she said. “We look forward to being part of the solution for the nursing shortage.”

Forty-seven nursing students have started their training this week at the Chandler location, 24 of which began classes Tuesday and 23 in a second cohort who started their studies on-site today.

Guests look in on the clinical skills lab.

“I am SO excited. We had students yesterday for the first day, and I feel a little emotional remembering the beginning of my nursing journey and seeing them beginning theirs,” said Cyndi North, Director of Nursing for the Chandler location. “It’s just fantastic to be part of the GCU team.”

Also part of the GCU team: Banner Health, the largest employer in Arizona that hosts 83% of the nursing clinical rotations in the state. It’s where many of the Chandler ABSN students will complete their clinical rotations and will shadow and train alongside nurses at hospital and clinical sites.

Banner Health representatives Noelle Trinder (right), a GCU alum, and Megan Parsons get a Lopes Up from the audience.

With 60,000 team members and 18,000 nurses, “This is great for our pipeline,” said GCU alumna Noelle Trinder, Senior Director of Health Care Careers at Banner Health. “Our mission is to make health easier so life can be better. This aligns so beautifully with GCU’s mission of preparing learners to find their purpose.”

Students at the East Valley ABSN Learning Site will do their clinical rotations at Banner Ocotillo Medical Center in Chandler.

“We’re so excited to welcome students of this campus to Banner Ocotillo,” said Megan Parsons, Chief Nursing Officer, Banner Health. “We have nurses that are ready and excited to teach.”

Julie Ellsworth, a GCU Level 1 Nursing faculty member, spoke to guests at the opening from a sun-infused skills lab equipped with about a dozen hospital beds.

GCU Cheer welcomes guests to the new Chandler ABSN site.

“It’s very similar to your hospital setting, that clinical setting,” she said. “It is just like that and what makes this place unique."

Ellsworth lives about 10 minutes from the Chandler site and knows how important a nursing educational facility like this is to the East Valley.

“GCU and this facility is a blessing to the community,” said Ellsworth, who will spend about six hours, once a week, educating each cohort and preparing students for their calling into the nursing profession. “ … We are able to get that higher education to students in the community and outside of the community, too. …

“I actually have one (student) who’s coming from Casa Grande. So they’re driving in, and this makes it a lot more convenient for them than to have to drive to the main campus or other locations. It’s going to be a good thing.”

Guests attend the grand opening of the new GCU Chandler ABSN site.

It will be a good thing, economically, as well for GCU’s partner in the initiative, the city of Chandler.

The facility, at One Chandler Corporate Center, 4100 Chandler Blvd., is in the burgeoning West Chandler Employment Corridor, which encompasses 7 square miles and employs 28,000 people.

“One thing it did not have until today is a higher education facility,” said Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke, who emphasized how partnering with higher education institutions has been on the city’s strategic plan for the last few years and that Chandler was looking to work with an innovative university like GCU.

“We know partnerships with higher education institutions like GCU are important for a lot reasons. They provide our residents with opportunities to gain knowledge and skills to pursue their career goals,” Hartke said, as well as build their talent pipeline and meet employers’ labor needs.

The new GCU ABSN site in Chandler.

“GCU coming to Chandler is a big win for us and is a big win for our community.”

Manger of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Related content:

GCU News: GCU helps stem teaching, nursing shortages

GCU News: GCU Nursing opens Accelerated BSN in Utah

GCU News: GCU earns re-accreditation for all nursing programs

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