As the first university in Pennsylvania to introduce an Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing degree program, La Roche will hold its 56th commencement ceremony on May 7. On this day, members of the first three ELMSN cohorts will celebrate their accomplishments before combatting a national nursing shortage that is particularly pronounced in Pennsylvania.
In its 2021 study of the U.S. health care labor market, Mercer, a global workforce analytics and consulting firm, listed the five states projected to have the highest deficit of registered nurses by 2026. Pennsylvania topped the list.
Even pre-pandemic, the warning signs were evident. In a 2019 special report on elder care, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale urged action before a shrinking health care workforce, combined with an aging population, produced a statewide eldercare crisis.
With its growing ELMSN program, La Roche is doing its part to alleviate that crisis. “I feel pretty strongly about the need we’re addressing in the community,” said La Roche Nursing Chair Terri Liberto, Ph.D., RN. “We’re providing nurses when they’re needed due to the shortage, but we’re also providing nurses with an advanced degree. These students will graduate with their Master of Science in nursing, and they’ll be prepared to sit for their nursing boards.”
They’ll also graduate with the added distinction of having earned their degrees during some of the darkest days in the history of health care. Two years ago, as COVID-19 descended, and the world shut down, La Roche opened the first pre-licensure graduate degree program in nursing in the state, and its students prevailed.
“They’ve been through some extraordinary circumstances, and I’ll say they’ve persevered well,” said ELMSN Program Director Pamela Chapman, Ph.D., RN. “They’ve had to be flexible, just like nurses have to be, and they’ve exemplified what we have to do in nursing. We’re very proud and excited for the students who have successfully completed this program and for this first ceremony.”
This year’s commencement will honor more than 80 students from La Roche’s first three ELMSN cohorts. Students who completed the program in December and May will receive their degrees, and students who will finish their coursework in August can walk now and receive their degrees once they successfully exit the program.
Reaching this point, especially under the circumstances, has been a group effort, and Dr. Chapman is quick to give additional credit where it is due. “I do want to commend our nursing faculty,” she said. “We have an awesome group of faculty members who are vested in the program and in our students, and who are experts in the areas in which they teach.”
Her sentiments are reflective of La Roche’s long-standing, student-serving culture. As a small institution set on a residential campus in McCandless Township north of Pittsburgh, La Roche may be modest in size, but it’s huge in heart and in impact.
At full capacity, its ELMSN program has the potential to produce 100 to 150 new nurses a year, a mission-critical contribution to the two major health systems that serve the area. Presented in hybrid format with some coursework being completed online, the ELMSN starts three cohorts a year in the fall, spring and summer, and as an accelerated, five-semester master’s program, it can be completed in as little as 20 months.
“Our ELMSN is designed to produce a pipeline of fresh talent for the health care workforce of the future,” said La Roche University Provost and Senior Vice President Howard Ishiyama, Ph.D. “Because of this innovative and modern program, our graduates will be positioned to make an immediate impact on the communities they serve. Likewise, the way in which this program was launched, the amount of dedication and commitment our students and faculty have displayed has already made a positive impact on the rich history of La Roche.”
Enabling students with a bachelor’s degree in any field to pursue a master’s degree in nursing, not only introduces graduates into a high-demand field at a faster rate, but also allows students to take advantage of financial aid opportunities available at the graduate level. These students are prepared to sit for the NCLEX-RN licensure exam and to enter the health care field with an advanced degree, but that’s not all they’ll bring to their new careers.
The graduates of Pennsylvania’s first three ELMSN cohorts will also bring the knowledge that they are strong enough to weather any storm, to care for their fellow humans and to do so with the same grace, compassion and encouragement that was afforded to them as part of their education at La Roche University.