News officially broke of Providence College’s plans to open a nursing program via an email from President Fr. Sicard on Sept. 12. The administration released its official plans immediately upon receiving approval from The Rhode Island Board of Nurse Registration and Nursing Education to establish a nursing program. The new school and subsequent programs will mean big changes for PC students, faculty, and physical infrastructure, and, as always, there is expected discomfort in the campus population warranting the uncertain effect this change may have.
Dr. Kyle McInnis, who is the inaugural dean of the new School of Nursing and Health Sciences and who has been integral in its formation, sat down with The Cowl to provide information on the new school and what it means for the student body, both current and incoming.
Speculation has been floating around campus for months now, and confirmation is finally here. Although information and involvement in the new school are just starting to pick up in the public sphere, a tremendous amount of thought and research has been put into this decision for years, with strong action being taken by Fr. Sicard in the last two years. “He had a vision,” Dr. McInnis says, “and went about it in a very deliberate way.”
The School of Nursing and Health Sciences will be made up of three bachelor’s programs. Nursing and Health Sciences will be two new majors offered, and the Health Policy Management major and minor will be moved to the new school.
Introducing PC’s nursing program is exciting not just for the college, but for the Rhode Island higher education community as a whole. According to a press release from the College, “The new nursing program will be the first such bachelor’s degree program established in Rhode Island in ten years.”
“An addition of a nursing school is a natural step forward for Providence College, especially as a Catholic institution,” says Dr. McInnis. The Dominican Order has put an emphasis on nursing and caring for the sick as far back as the 12th century. Dr. McInnis emphasizes that PC should feel the importance of having a role in the education of the next generation of nurses. Because they will have a Catholic-based liberal arts education, they will be more well-rounded and better providers.
There are plans to grow the new school at a steady rate while maintaining intensely selective admittance. In its first year, the new school will accept 50 students for the nursing program and 50 students for the health sciences program, and will include all new and existing health policy and management students. The following year, the initial class size in both nursing and health sciences will grow to 75, and the incoming freshman classes are targeted to be 50 students each. The pattern will continue, and when the school is fully matriculated, by year five, there will be 600 new students on campus. This number is in addition to the students who enroll in the already existing health policy management major.
There are logistical questions on the minds of many students: where will all of these new students sleep, eat, and work?
PC is not in a position to expand its acreage. However, according to Dr. McInnis, there is much underutilized space, particularly on the east side of campus, that hasn’t been updated, barring Shanley Hall, in decades. “80 to 90 percent of construction on campus has been to the west of Ray,” he says. There is far less activity near Smith, Fennell, Koffler, and Howley. What the administration is attempting to do is to spread out activity across campus. The location for the new academic building is planned to be on the same footprint as Fennell Hall, the demolition of which will begin after graduation this spring.
Shanley Hall will solve the immediate necessity of finding housing for these new students. A pressing task for Dr. McInnis and the administration is to expand sleeping and eating arrangements for a growing school.
All academic programs at PC will feel the presence of the new nursing school. 600 new students will demand more faculty for core requirement classes and the Development of Western Civilization Program. Consequently, a hiring plan will not only need to focus on the development of the nursing school, but of the whole college.
While it is important the administration makes overtures about how this move is in lockstep with, and ultimately motivated by, the college’s mission, there are certainly other outside factors at play. The second largest generational group in US history, the baby boomers, is beginning to demand more and more from healthcare institutions, while college enrollment is on the decline. So, PC, in an attempt to match peer institutions like Holy Cross and Fairfield, is seeking to draw as many students as possible from a limited pool to a growing and promisingly lucrative field. “The competition is intense,” says Dr. McInnis. “This is the program in the highest demand, and it is predicted to be that way for the next decade.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the healthcare profession is expected to grow 13 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for other jobs. The US government expects to see about 2 million new jobs in this field over the next decade.
Dr. McInnis says that students, both incoming and current, will be served by newly recruited faculty. Having conducted the first nationwide search for anatomy and physiology professors, he says, “We hope our other searches go as well as this first one.” He emphasizes that PC is deeply respected as an academic institution.
Some students might be concerned about seeing an entirely new faculty for the new school. While Dr. McInnis recognizes that worry, he says with confidence that he has seen some cream-of-the-crop applicants that are experts in their field, and most importantly can embody the holistic approach to education that PC demands from its faculty. He mentions that what makes a new school so special is that it attracts particularly driven, enthusiastic, and creative men and women who wish to be trailblazers. “As the founding dean of the school, my biggest responsibility is to create a faculty composed of talented teachers and researchers who are aligned with the mission of the college and with who PC is.”
Students who are not in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences will also benefit from the new academic space and faculty. Dr. McInnis feels particularly strong about the current difficulty some students face—for example, psychology majors—when they seek to take courses like anatomy and physiology, courses that are essential for concentrations after PC, like physical therapy school and PA school. “Providence is now able to provide a more open pathway to pursue careers in healthcare to students who are interested.”
The School of Nursing and Health Sciences will not define the college. PC’s culture, mission, and commitment to academic excellence will define it. PC nursing program graduates will be set apart from others in their field because of the liberal arts education they will receive here.