The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) announced Wednesday (Dec. 6) plans for a 15-month accelerated bachelor of science nursing program, or accelerated BSN, in conjunction with Sparks and Mercy to address a nationwide “crisis” that is expected to result in 1.2 million vacancies in the registered nurse (RN) workforce by 2022.

Dr. Carolyn Mosley, dean of the UAFS college of health sciences, brought the idea to UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran after recognizing the shortage and reading the foreboding figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Mosley said there are 270 similar programs in 49 states across the U.S. with 13 additional schools considering.

Mosley said the shortage is largely a result of the “aging population, increased instances of chronic illnesses, the aging nursing workforce, and the limited capacity of nursing schools due to lack of faculty,” adding that the average nurse’s age is 56 years old. She said schools of nursing are struggling to meet demand “because of lack of faculty and budget constraints.”

While the BLS figure speaks to the nation, Mosley said, “We also have a shortage of nurses here in Fort Smith for the same reasons.”

Furthermore, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses reports that in the 2016-2017 school year, 64,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs.

“This will be the largest shortage since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid, which happened in the 1960s,” Mosley said.

The accelerated BSN program will begin at UAFS in the fall 2018 semester, and the application process is now open with an application deadline of March 1, 2018. The spring deadline will be Oct. 1, 2018. The program will accept 64 applicants per year, or 32 each semester. Along with the school’s traditional 120, that means UAFS will accept 184 students per year to four-year RN programs. Mosley hopes that number can grow as the accelerated BSN “becomes viable.”

The program is open to any student with a bachelor’s degree from a non-nursing discipline who maintained a cumulative GPA of 2.5 throughout their previous classwork, and it will “mirror our existing traditional program in credit hours and courses,” Mosley said.

“The difference is the length of time that these students will have to take these courses. It will be condensed … you enter in the fall semester, you complete at the end of the (following) fall semester. If you enter in the spring semester, you complete the program at the end of the (following) spring semester.”

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