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Joy Kieffer, founding chairman for nursing and an associate professor for nursing at the University of Mount Olive, stands in a room in the library at the university that is being converted into a simulation care lab for nursing students.

With baby boomers aging out of the nursing workforce, the University of Mount Olive is stepping up to help make sure there are enough nurses in Wayne County and surrounding communities in the future.

The university is revamping its associate of science in general studies degree, while at the same time beginning a prelicensure bachelor of science in nursing degree program.

“We’ve been taking care of nurses in Wayne and surrounding counties for a decade,” said Joy Kieffer, founding chair for nursing and an associate professor for nursing at UMO.

“For the last 10 years, the university had an online registered nursing to bachelor of science in nursing degree program that I started. We started with 20 students, and we now have over 370 alumni.”

The university also has three master of science in nursing programs for nurse educators, nurse administrators and a dual tract — a degree in both education and administration, Kieffer said.

The new BSN degree program will take a student off the street who knows nothing about nursing and teach the person everything they need to know by the time they graduate in four years.

Kieffer said the first two years are concentrated on basic general education like history, math and science.

The last two years, juniors and seniors will learn nothing but nursing.

To teach students what they need to know about nursing, the university is renovating part of the second floor of the campus library to be a state-of-the-art simulation care lab, Kieffer said.

“The sim lab is going to contain two high-fidelity rooms, which means they will have lifelike mannequins” Kieffer said. “They’ll cry, scream, moan. We can make their heart rates go up. We can code them and bring them back to life. And the baby mannequin can birth a baby.

“So we can teach them everything they want to know in those two high-fidelity rooms as close to real life as possible.”

There will also be a low-fidelity room, which will simulate an emergency department, complete with hospital bays and curtains around each.

“Each one of those beds will have what we call a static mannequin, your dead weight mannequin,” Kieffer said. “How do you move a patient from the bed to a chair when they can’t help you? How do you roll them over? How do you give a bath? How do you check basic vitals? (Students will learn) the basic etiquette, all the etiquette pieces.”

The simulation lab will also have a briefing room, set up as a conference room with a large television.

“We’re going to video and audio record everything they do so then you get to sit down and watch yourself doing it,” Kieffer said. “You learn better if you can see yourself. You critique yourself.”

She said it also gives the faculty a chance to critique the nursing students.

Kieffer is hoping the simulation lab will be completed by the end of this month. In August, the computer components that operate the mannequins will be put into place.

In the meantime, the university is in the process of writing the Board of Nursing in Raleigh to let it know what’s going on with the program because the board has to give the university permission to have the prelicensure nursing program on campus.

“Although the university’s been running for 70 years, we’ve never had a program like this before that’s prelicensure,” Kieffer said. “Since they’re the ones that dole out the licenses, they’re the ones that have oversight over this program. That’s separate from our accrediting body, which is in D.C.”

University leaders hope to be on the Board of Nursing’s agenda for its January meeting. If the program is approved, the university will start admitting students for August 2022.

The BSN program will take 50 students in the day program, students who live on campus, and 50 in the fast-track program, that will be offered at night for working students who live in the area.

The fast-track students would be on track to graduate in December 2023 and the day students in May 2024. After they graduate, they still have to take state board licensure exams to become registered nurses. The fast-track students will graduate a semester before the day students because they don’t have to leave the campus during the summer months.

Kieffer has also revamped the associate of science in general studies degree so instead of giving nursing students the choice of picking classes, they will be instructed which ones to take for nursing.

“The beauty of that degree is that even if they don’t get into our program, they will be set up to go to any nursing school,” Kieffer said. “And the courses they are taking can easily be moved to another degree if they decide nursing is not for them.”

She stressed that the university is not taking anything away from what an associate degree nurse has, just building upon it.

Kieffer said the average age of nurses in the U.S. is 52.

“It’s not going to be much longer before our baby boomers age out and just cannot do the back-breaking work of rolling over 300-pound men in an ICU every day, 12 hours a day,” she said. “Now, knowing those baby boomers are going to age out of the workforce, there’s going to be a huge windfall, and we’re going to need young, healthy, vibrant nurses, men and women, to get into the workforce.”

Kieffer said that makes it even more important over the next three, five and eight years, to get more nurses into the field.

“This is the university’s way of paying it forward and grooming something in Wayne and the surrounding counties that we don’t have,” she said. “The nearest baccalaureate program is East Carolina University, Barton College, Wilmington, then you have to head on the other side of (Interstate 95).

“This is really going to serve a nice purpose for Wayne and surrounding counties. I truly think that fast track night program, because they’re already here, they’re not going anywhere. I think that’s the perfect balance in serving the community’s needs, serving the university’s mission and at the same time, taking care of all the patients here and in surrounding counties.”

The university can also groom the students through a master’s degree to become faculty and administrators.

The nursing students will have their choice of job locations — prisons, hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes.

To help train nurses in its new degree program, UMO is looking for donations from the community, such as supplies and equipment.

“Maybe there’s a doctor’s office that has an old stretcher and doesn’t need it,” she said. “Before they throw it away or throw it in a warehouse and forget it, call me. I would love to have wheelchairs. Maybe some expired products like IVs. They can’t use them on a patient. We’re sticking it in a mannequin. I’ll take them.

“Any old, expiring or retiring supplies like bandages, IV bags, things that may even be broken, even if all I have to do is just simulate it with a beeping noise, I’ll take it.”

The university is also looking for partners who can help with clinical opportunities for the nursing students.

“Nurses do so much more outside of the hospital,” Kieffer said. “A lot of health care is moving outside of the hospital into homes, larger facilities, doctor officers, nursing facilities. So I don’t need to always be in a hospital setting. That’s what we’ll simulate right here. Even schools have nurses.

“We can do blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checks at churches. We can spend time at the Baptist Home for Children and be with the kids for a day. We can even do screenings at health fairs.”

The simulation lab was made possible through a donation by Dr. Thomas Morris, a retired optometrist, Kieffer said. The lab is estimated to cost $1 million.

“Everything was on paper back in 2018, but we didn’t have enough to build a sim lab,” she said.