Early in 2019, a group of community stakeholders began conversations about bringing an Associate of Science in Nursing program to Somerset County.
Seeking partnership with a quality, experienced educational institution, the group – comprising members of Somerset County Commissioners and Somerset County Foundation for Higher Education (SCFHE) – turned to PennWest Clarion.
Four years later, three classes of nurses have completed the program, adding 69 skilled registered nurses to the region's health care facilities.
Citing Clarion’s proven, cutting-edge nursing and technology program, Charles Korn, Somerset County Foundation for Higher Education vice chair, said the program would complement the foundation’s robust scholarship, tuition assistance and student loan initiatives.
The Somerset commissioners and SCFHE worked with Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Stefano and state Rep. Carl Metzgar to secure grant funding to start the program. The funding was used to renovate a wing of the Somerset County Education Center, which houses the program, purchase simulation equipment, and offer scholarships to residents of Somerset.
Other community leaders joined the effort and have created scholarships for students who enroll in the ASN program at Somerset. The students are eligible for low-interest loans through a local financial institution that has partnered with SCFHE.
“This partnership will result in the county being able to retain a highly skilled and educated nursing workforce delivering vastly improved health care and medical services throughout Somerset County,” Charles Korn, SCFHE vice chair, said at the time.
“Health care facilities in the region were having a difficult time attracting and retaining nurses. When young people left the community to pursue educational opportunities, they often would leave the area and not return,” said Dr. Deb Kelly, dean of PennWest’s College of Health Sciences. “Leaders of the Somerset community believed that if they brought a nursing program to the area, they could attract people who were interested in remaining in the region.”
Pennsylvania Highlands Community College and Somerset Hospital are also partnering in the initiative. PennWest Clarion offers the core nursing classes and general education, while Penn Highlands provides additional general education and support courses.
Somerset Hospital serves as a clinical training site and offers diverse clinical/hospital experiences arranged to cover a variety of nursing specialties including emergency room, operating room, home health and other nursing specialties, such as medical-surgical and pediatrics.
Krista Mathias, board chair of Somerset Hospital, said Clarion’s nursing program benefits the region significantly.
“Not only is this an excellent educational opportunity for our young people and folks looking to be trained in a highly marketable and noble profession, it is an opportunity for Somerset Hospital to connect with the best and brightest in the Laurel Highlands and recruit highly skilled nurses from the clinical portion of the program,” Mathias said.
“These partnerships create additional learning opportunities for our students and strengthen our local workforce,” said Trish Corle, Penn Highlands vice president of student services.
The two-year ASN program leads to licensure as a registered nurse upon successful completion of the NCLEX state exam. Clarion’s current ASN program has boasted strong academics with NCLEX pass rates of 100 percent in 2016 and 94 percent in 2017, well above the national average.
“This partnership brings a topnotch education program to help staff our world-class medical institutions here in Somerset County,” Stefano said. “Working with Rep. (Carl) Metzgar, I was proud to secure the funding needed to renovate the facility and acquire the technology needed to provide the students in this program with the tools that they need to succeed.”
Once students complete the program and pass the licensure exam, they can begin working in the nursing specialty of their choice. Students can seamlessly continue to Clarion’s online RN-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. The online format supports program completion built around the student’s work and family responsibilities. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement for the upper-level degree programs.