College of Nursing Charts Ambitious Course
By TOM WOOLF | USF News
CANDICE L. SAUNDERS KNEW she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
That passion, combined with her aptitude for science, led to her decision to take a chance on a fledgling nursing college in Florida.
She had completed a pre-nursing program at a community college in Fort Lauderdale. Saunders liked the idea of being part of something new, and while it meant living away from home for the first time, she moved to Tampa and enrolled in USF’s new College of Nursing.
Saunders joined 49 other students in that charter class in 1973. There were 10 faculty members and one staff member. Classes were held in double-wide trailers.
“It was very energizing,” recalls Saunders, ’75, now a member of the college’s board of advisors and the president/CEO of Wellstar Health System in Marietta, Georgia. “When you’re creating something together, you learn a lot about flexibility and adaptation, which are important in nursing. I was part of an important new program and there were very high expectations about its future.”
The college long ago abandoned those trailers for permanent facilities. And as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2023, the college is charting an ambitious course for its future — also with high expectations about the contributions it will make to health care.
Topping the list of priorities is an all-out effort to expand undergraduate education to help address the nursing shortage crisis. This year’s state budget includes $33 million to expand the college’s facilities on the Tampa campus to create additional classrooms and state-of-the-art simulation space. It also includes $6.9 million in recurring funding that will enable the college to increase its current 65-member faculty by nearly 50 percent and add 30 staff members.
Construction, which will take place in two phases, will begin in spring 2023. The first phase will be completed in time for the start of the spring 2024 semester; phase two is expected to be completed by the end of the fall 2024 semester.
The expansion means that by 2028, the college expects to produce more than 750 undergraduate nurses each year, a roughly 200 percent increase.
“Up until the pandemic, Florida was slated to have an excess of nurses,” says Usha Menon, dean of the college and senior associate vice president of USF Health. “This just really hit us hard.”
Menon noted that at the height of the pandemic, health care systems in the Tampa Bay region were so short-staffed they had to employ hundreds of travel nurses — nurses who work for independent staffing agencies. Although some of the immediate needs have been resolved, Menon says, “We are balanced on the edge of a precipice, with workforce development still not meeting the demand for nurses across Florida.”
The college’s expansion could not come at a more critical time. A 2021 report by the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospitals estimated the state will face a shortage of more than 59,000 nurses by 2035.
Along with its emphasis on growing the nursing workforce, the college also is focusing on partnerships and outreach. It has partnered with the Salvation Army of Tampa Bay to offer nursing care to homeless individuals who have been discharged from hospitals. Working with Port Tampa Bay and the Tampa Port Ministries, the college provides on-site physical care to global seafarers.
Early next year, the college expects to take delivery of a mobile health unit that will increase access to health care in medically underserved areas. The 38-foot van, staffed by two advanced practice registered nurses, a patient care coordinator, faculty preceptor and students, will serve Port Tampa Bay, Sulphur Springs, Tampa Heights, Wimauma and south St. Petersburg.
“My heart and soul lie with health disparities,” says Menon, the principal investigator for the $3.85 million federal grant supporting the initiative. “Anything we do in nursing should be bi-directional. It’s important that we produce nurses. But it’s also important to ask how we can meet the needs of the community and what can we learn from the richness of those communities.”
Meeting the needs of the community also is at the heart of once-a-semester meetings the college hosts for chief nursing officers and other officials from 12 Tampa Bay health care systems. Menon calls it a “mastermind group.”
“It’s not about competition,” she says. “It’s about using collective ambition to address issues. How can we share resources and best practices? From our perspective as the leading academic institution in this area, what can we do to better prepare our students?”
Sheila Ferrall, MS ’90, executive director of nursing practice, education and clinical effectiveness at Moffitt Cancer Center, appreciates the priority the college places on forming partnerships with area health care systems.
“It helps build a sense of community among the nursing leaders in the area,” she says. “We learn what people are doing in other organizations and about how those approaches might work for us.”
During visits to her alma mater, Saunders says she has been inspired by the dedication and awareness of today’s nursing students. As they move into their careers, they will play important roles in the evolution of the profession.
“Over the years, I saw a separation between treating the mental health needs of patients and treating their physical needs,” she says. “We are realizing now that you have to care for the whole person. If you have a mental health problem, it affects your physical health. If you have a physical health issue, it has mental health impacts.”
Like Menon, Saunders emphasizes the importance of reducing health disparities. She believes nurses can play a much larger role in shaping health policy.
“We can do a lot more to ensure we don’t have disparities in health care,” she says. “As we look at some of the biases that may exist within some of our traditional models, I think nurses play a key role in uncovering them and helping people to see things differently. Nursing plays an advocacy role not only for patients but for the community.”
Timeline: High notes in USF College of Nursing History
College accredited by the Florida Board of Nursing, nine faculty appointed
- Gwendoline R. MacDonald appointed dean
- Five mobile classrooms, 4,000 square feet, comprise the college
- In June 1975, 41 students earned their bachelor’s degree in nursing. Students completed clinical hours at Tampa General Hospital, Hillsborough County Hospital, Tampa Veterans Hospital, or with one clinical affiliate. In this class, 8 percent were male, and 5 percent reported ethnic diversity.
- Office of Nursing Research established
- State Board of Regents approves the planning for the college’s doctoral program
- Doctoral program implemented with admission of seven students to charter class
- 10-year accreditation from Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
Groundbreaking for new College of Nursing building
- 75,000-square-foot building dedicated in May
- Usha Menon joined USF Health in September 2018 as vice dean of research for the College of Nursing
- Menon named dean and senior associate vice president for USF Health
- At the beginning of June, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved $33 million in the FY 2022-23 budget for the USF Health College of Nursing to expand its infrastructure and current footprint on USF’s Tampa campus with enhanced simulation training space. In addition, DeSantis approved $6.9 million in recurring funding for the college to hire faculty and staff who will support the expansion and student success.