St. Catherine University: Preparing Graduate Nursing Students to Lead and Influence
Written by Matthew Byrne, PhD, RN, CNE, Associate Dean of Nursing and Kara S. Koschmann, PhD, APRN, CPNP-PC, BSN-DNP Nurse Practitioner Program Director/Associate Professor
St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s), located in St. Paul, Minnesota, knows nursing. We have been educating nurses for over 100 years. St. Kate’s nursing education is rooted in this rich history but is branching out from this strong foundation to meet the healthcare challenges and educational demands of today. Our large and growing nursing department offers seven degree programs, including four graduate programs: the master’s of science in nursing (MSN) entry-level, the MSN nurse educator, the MSN or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) nurse practitioner (NP, adult-gerontologic and pediatric), and the post-master’s DNP.
St. Kate’s was founded in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. The mission of St. Kate’s is to educate students to lead and influence. In nursing, this means developing leaders in our discipline and influencing change in healthcare, particularly by addressing social justice issues, health disparities, and inequities. The nursing department is housed within the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, which is home to over 40 health science degree programs ranging from sonography and social work to physical therapy and respiratory care. Interprofessional education permeates scholarship and teaching practice at the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, and students are given the many opportunities to interact with such a wide array of health professionals. Within the school of health, three core elements of all programs include interprofessional collaborative practice, cultural fluency, and ecological approaches to health (e.g., social determinants of health).
With an eye on the increasing demands and challenges in healthcare, we are currently working on expanding our graduate offerings. In 2022, following program approval by the ACEN and our university, we will admit our first cohort of second-certificate psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner students as well as our first cohort of MSN nursing informatics students. These programs will incorporate holistic nursing practices, integrate technological innovation, and recognize the role healthcare providers play in improving healthcare quality, safety, and equity.
In addition to the changing healthcare landscape, our graduate programs are also undergoing revisions in response to the changing higher education landscape. This endeavor includes the development of six graduate core nursing courses offered in flexible formats for all graduate students regardless of their program of study (e.g., core informatics, leadership, evidence-based practice, etc.). This structure will facilitate a more seamless transition between various programs if needed and will foster student progression through the DNP if desired.
In 2020, all our nursing programs underwent successful reaccreditation with the ACEN. We intentionally developed systems to increase faculty engagement and understanding of the accreditation process (Ziefle et al., 2021). We utilized a learning management system to collect critical documents with one content module for each accreditation standard. The use of program accreditation champions was also critical for success. In addition to meeting all ACEN accreditation standards, the NP program also had to document compliance with the National Task Force Criteria for the Evaluation of Nurse Practitioner Programs. The NP program accreditation champion worked alongside another accreditation team leader to collect the required data and present it in a clear table with links to all relevant documentation in a cloud-based storage system.
The COVID-19 pandemic started several months before our scheduled site visit, interrupting collaborative processes. Through teamwork and creativity, we had a successful virtual site visit in September 2020. We have taken several important lessons away from the accreditation experience, including the importance of continuous accreditation readiness, focusing on efficient operations (including the use of more automation around accreditation tasks and timelines), and the importance of emphasizing a community share and stake in successful ongoing readiness. Our long history of focusing not just on nursing but on educating women, addressing social justice issues, and responding to the needs of our times continues to allow us to intermix tradition with responsiveness. In that spirit, informed by the lessons of accreditation, we will continue to expand our leadership influence and find new ways to address both acute and chronic health issues in our community and beyond.