College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Thinking differently about health education and evolving the opportunities for nurses

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Friday, March 19, 2021 - 1:01am

A year ago, we were planning to launch our first cohort in the new Registered Nurse-Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Humboldt State University. We were envisioning a program that would empower a new generation of nurses to think differently about their role in health care and the way health care is delivered.

Now, our inaugural “cohort 1” of 13 students is midway through their second semester. We have seen strong interest from new students as well, with 175 applicants for the upcoming cohort that will have a size of about 25 students.

Each student has a unique story about their nursing journey and with each course, we can see their future unfold. We believe it is valuable for students to learn from other experiences. It wasn’t that long ago that Dr. Perris was that nursing student who was filled with so many ideas for improving how we deliver care: “Feeling stuck, I went back to school, and that decision changed the way I looked at the healthcare system. It was then I adopted the mantra ‘Think positively, speak in possibilities, and never give up!’ ”

Nurses are learning to look at the systems they work in through a lens of opportunities, with an understanding that change is a process that takes time. They are also learning that many factors contribute to a person’s overall health and the choices they make, to look at each person individually, and to listen to their story. All this helps them motivate, rather than try to dictate, behavior changes that will improve overall health.

When people think of a nurse, they often think of the nurse in a hospital. This is where most nurses work and where most nursing students want to work. That’s where the excitement is, the drama and the glory of “saving lives.” But what if we shifted our focus to prevention? What if we empowered the nurses and other health care workers in community and public health settings to elevate their roles so they could fill gaps in care, and offload work from busy providers? What if the healthcare systems embraced a culture of teaching and learning and mentorship so that all staff have the knowledge and skills to work to the top of their license and training? Could we improve access and the experience of care? Could we lower the overall cost of care AND lower the rate of burnout in healthcare workers?

The United States spends more on health care than any other developed country, yet has some of the poorest outcomes, especially in rural areas. In Humboldt County we are very remote. It is critical that we think long-term about the way we care for our communities and that we put systems in place that provide education and care to people where they can access it, such as in one’s homes, communities, schools, and workplaces.

The future of nursing and health care will rely on interdisciplinary education, collaboration, and training. At Humboldt State, as we seek to transform into a polytechnic institution, there is an opportunity to partner with existing programs within our colleges, use local resources to enhance existing nursing roles in hospital settings, and re-envision new roles for nurses beyond the hospital walls.

Nurses are the largest health care workforce in the United States, and there is an opportunity to educate nurses to lead efforts to address the needs of populations. Nurses are part of a team and need to be seen as partners in the delivery of care. This is a shift that requires collaboration with all areas of education, including K-12 and community colleges. This shift in nursing education will improve pathways to fill roles in leadership, public health nursing, nursing education, advanced practice nursing, and so much more.

Creating the Humboldt State nursing program, and this important opportunity for students and the community, truly took the effort of many throughout the region. It highlighted the potential of our community when we come together around a common purpose, and we know there is much more we can still do together to enhance other health care workforce opportunities on the North Coast. This is our moment in time to build upon this success and expand not only nursing education but other health care professions. Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Humboldt State University. Dr. Kimberly Perris, DNP, RN, CNL, PHN, is an Assistant Professor and Director of Humboldt State University’s RN-BSN Nursing Program.