OKLAHOMA CITY — University of Oklahoma leaders on Tuesday announced the college’s plan to address the state’s nursing shortage, which will double the number of nurses enrolled in its program. For the first time ever, the University of Oklahoma will be able to accept all qualified applicants to its nursing program this fall.
“There probably isn’t a university in the country that can say it does it today – we all aspire to do it,” said Julie Hoff, OU Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing Dean, during the a press conference held at the state. Capitol on Tuesday. “It’s historic.”
The state and the nation as a whole were already experiencing a shortage of nurses before the pandemic brought the crisis into focus, OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. said in the angst that came with COVID.
With just 712 nurses per 100,000 people, Oklahoma ranks 46th in the nation in the number of nurses per capita, according to the Oklahoma Nurses Association.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, 130 beds at OU Health were empty — not for lack of demand for care, but because of a lack of health care providers to staff the beds, Harroz said. OU Health and other health care systems struggling to find staff have tried to fill the void by hiring temporary nurses at record pay rates.
At the same time, the college was turning away hundreds of qualified applicants for its nursing program. Financial constraints limited the number of places the school could offer each year, Harroz said. “The tuition and fees charged that are contributed, along with the state’s share, do not cover the full cost of educating students beyond the number we typically take, and that has been a factor limiting.”
In the past, the university accepted about half of qualified applicants, he said, rejecting many students who met the criteria but for whom the college simply had no room. This fall, for the first time, the school will accept 100% of qualified applicants – a class of 555 students.
2021 brought significant changes that allow OU to invest in its program. The University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, University Hospitals Authority and Trust, and OU Medicine Inc. merged into a single, fully integrated university health care system in July 2021. Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law Senate Bill 79, restoring the status hospital tax exemption. enjoyed for most of the previous century, and freeing up $6.5 million for OU Health to apply to increase the number of healthcare professionals in its system. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education increased the state’s allocation to the school to approximately $5 million, and OU Health received a generous private donation from the Ziegler family, to which the school’s college of nurses is named after.
OU Health also reallocated funds from its system to deal with the unprecedented crisis situation, Harroz said.
In February 2022, OU Health announced a $25 million investment in a program to provide competitive compensation to attract and retain more permanent staff, including salary increases for frontline nurses and nurse supervisors. Harroz said the school also invests in instructor salaries.
In 2021, OU announced that it is partnering with Norman Regional Hospital and Duncan Regional Hospital to offer its Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at two additional locations. The OU College of Nursing has expanded its online degree offerings for registered nurses enrolled in the RN to BSN program.
The OU College of Nursing is also working with the Oklahoma CareerTech system to offer a “refresher course” for nurses designed to help nurses whose licenses have expired re-enter the workforce.
Stitt and other legislative leaders applauded the university’s efforts at Tuesday’s event. Increasing the number of health care providers in Oklahoma is key to improving the health and living standards of the state’s workforce, said the Secretary of Commerce and Labor Development. -worker, Scott Mueller.
“The better it is for our employers, and very clearly the better it is for Oklahoma’s economy,” Mueller said.
State Rep. Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay, chair of the House Public Health Committee and herself a registered nurse and nurse practitioner, released a statement on Tuesday praising the OU announcement. “Today’s news shows our efforts are working.”