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As demand for nurses rises, OHSU expands nursing program to central Oregon

The OHSU School of Nursing’s accelerated 15-month program will start this summer in Bend. The program, also in Portland and Ashland, offers learning through simulation, such as this training exercise on OHSU School of Nursing’s Ashland campus. (Provided: OHSU/Allen Hallmark)
Allen Hallmark
The OHSU School of Nursing’s accelerated 15-month program will start this summer in Bend. The program, also in Portland and Ashland, offers learning through simulation, such as this training exercise on OHSU School of Nursing’s Ashland campus. (Provided: OHSU/Allen Hallmark)

Oregon Health & Science University is expanding its program that prepares students for nursing careers on an accelerated schedule to Bend.

Central Oregon will be the third spot for OHSU’s accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing, which already is available in Portland and Ashland. The program graduated 128 students in the last academic year and is on track to graduate even more this year. The Bend location will start with eight students in July.

Through OHSU’s School of Nursing, the intensive 15-month program allows students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field to prepare for a career as a registered nurse. Health care and higher education officials hope the program will provide a pathway for central Oregonians to enter the field in the region, which has a shortage of nurses. St. Charles Health System is the largest provider in central Oregon, and its Bend hospital is the only level two trauma center east of the Cascades equipped to serve adults and children with complex and severe injuries.

In recent years, nurses faced burnout and exhaustion during the pandemic, which accelerated retirements and exits from the field. A 2021 Oregon Employment Department survey found three-fourths of registered nurse positions among nearly 2,100 openings are difficult to fill. As the health care industry continues to rebuild, it faces increased demands for services as the population grows, including in central Oregon, and the aging baby boomer generation needs more advanced care.

To launch the program in Bend, OHSU worked with Central Oregon Community College and St. Charles Health System, which operates four hospitals and dozens of clinics throughout central Oregon. Those talks started in June 2023.

“We talked about, ‘How do we solve a problem of Central Oregon not having enough nurses and not preparing enough nurses?’” St. Charles Chief Nursing Executive Joan Ching said in an interview “Coming out of the pandemic, I think there was a reawakening of a lot of people that wanted to contribute to the health and wellness community. So we’re just meeting a demand that’s already there in central Oregon.”

The program will be based out of Central Oregon Community College’s campus. Students will take classes and simulated training on campus and get hands-on experience through St. Charles Health System’s hospitals and clinics.

Susan Bakewell Sachs, dean of the OHSU School of Nursing, said the program’s arrival in central Oregon is a partnership that complements what’s already in place.

“It was a real opportunity to offer something that was needed – that was not already available in central Oregon,” Bakewell Sachs said in an interview.

With its requirement for applicants to have a prior bachelor’s degree, the program offers a way for students to change careers quickly. In the past, OHSU has attracted students to the program from broad walks of life, such as lawyers or people with doctoral degrees.

“One of the wonderful things about this program is it does draw on these prior life experiences and discipline-based experiences,” Bakewell Sachs said. “It tends to be a very enriching experience for the individual. And it’s also enriching to our profession.”

St. Charles Health System’s hospitals and clinics offer a variety of settings for nursing students. The program exposes students to different medical settings and works to try to match them to their areas of interest, Bakewell Sachs said.

Nurses who graduate and receive a license can apply to work at St. Charles Health System’s residency program, which offers more hands-on training and mentorship as new nurses start their careers. After a year or two, nurses often go into specialties, like working in an emergency department or operating room.

The community college’sregistered nurse program already trains students with an associate’s degree and is developing a bachelor’s degree in nursing that could start as early as 2025. That program will be for students without a previous bachelor’s degree and be separate from OHSU’s accelerated program.

Julie Downing, an instructional dean at COCC, said in a statement that the collaboration is a good fit and allows both schools to reach different groups of students.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.