Fort Lewis College and University of Colorado Anschutz have teamed up to launch a four-year nursing degree program at Fort Lewis College, welcoming its first cohorts in fall 2023.
The CU Nursing Fort Lewis College Collaborative was announced in February 2022 as a way to boost the number of nurses in the Four Corners and hopefully help fill a demand in the workforce.
The program received $1.7 million from The Colorado Health Foundation, and Colorado senators are requesting $1.3 million in federal funding for the nursing collaborative.
FLC plans to renovate Skyhawk Hall to become a nursing-focused learning space.
The collaborative is supposed to combine FLC’s small class sizes and intimate learning environment with CU Anschutz’s curriculum and research expertise.
“The philosophy here is to bring nursing out of the hospitals and into communities to provide health care to a rural and diverse population that has been historically underserved,” said FLC Provost Cheryl Nixon.
Nixon said FLC placed an emphasis on the nursing program because of a nationwide nursing shortage that is even more prominent in rural areas.
In 2018, the Government Accountability Office studied employment data from the Indian Health Service and concluded there were not enough health care providers in IHS service areas to provide quality health care to Indigenous people. The study showed an average vacancy rate of 25% for physicians, nurses and care providers.
The program is dedicated to curriculum that emphasizes community and Indigenous approaches to health care in order to bring health and equity to Durango and its surrounding communities. The grant also establishes scholarships to support students who will diversify the nursing profession and demonstrate a commitment to rural and Indigenous health care studies.
The newly constructed learning space will feature mock hospital rooms with lifelike patient mannequins for training purposes. The mannequins will feature a range of skin tones and will be programmed to display common health concerns and characteristics of rural patients.
“The sim labs will include a resource library on Indigenous health care, materials to learn about Indigenous understandings of healing, and laboratory space for practicing traditional approaches to health care,” Nixon said. “For example, knowledge about plant- and herb-based healing will be incorporated into training.”
Nixon said the college wants to listen to issues Indigenous communities need addressed and train students based on those issues.
The grant will also fund a certificate focused on Indigenous and community health care. According to a news release, nursing students must take a broad range of prerequisite courses for college requirements.
The certificate will rework those courses to focus on preventive and community-based medicine. Curriculum outside of nursing specific classes will be science-, technology-, engineering- and math-based. STEM-based curriculum utilizes hands-on, project-based and problem-solving education.
“The goal of the program is to increase nursing capacity in Durango and the Four Corners,” Nixon said. “We hope to contribute to a robust health care community dedicated to developing innovative ideas that improve health care more generally.”
The program will also involve students working with nursing mentors to increase experiences in a professional setting.
FLC expects to collaborate with Pueblo Community College’s nursing program in the future, however, FLC is focused on launching its program with CU Anschutz to start.