ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Faced with an outdated nursing school building, but a regional and national shortage of nurses, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has decided to buck an industry trend.
The hospital, ranked among the nation's best, has invested $40 million in what it plans to make one of the nation's premier nursing schools.
U.S. hospitals have been phasing out their nursing schools -- and the R.N. diploma programs that used to churn out registered nurses -- over the last 40 years out of a belief that nurses should be taught in academic settings.
There used to be hundreds of R.N. diploma programs but now number fewer than 70, said Robert Rosseter, associate executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Nurses have been pursuing associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at colleges and universities.
Barnes-Jewish had to decide whether to get out of the business of educating nurses or ramp it up. It chose the latter.
Citing the national reputations of Barnes-Jewish and its affiliate, St. Louis Children's Hospital, nursing school dean and professor Michael Evans said: "There's a low tolerance here for anything that is not world-class. They recruited me and told me to turn it into one of the Top 10 nursing schools in the country."
Nursing schools are not ranked, Rosseter said, but some of the largest programs are at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.
The new Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College opens Monday to 615 students seeking bachelor's and master's degrees, including a one-year accelerated nursing program for people who have a bachelor's degree in another field. A doctoral program is in the works.
The five-story institution is part of St. Louis' burgeoning hospital complex in the city's Central West End, within walking distance of medical centers where students will get clinical experience, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, which will share faculty.
The building features state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities and advanced acoustics in its classrooms and auditoriums, and provides for long-distance learning for students in affiliated hospitals.
The college also boasts what it says are some of the most advanced clinical simulation labs in the country.
Nursing students who used to give their first injection in an orange, or do medical assessments on instructors or fellow students now can practice on mannequins.
The high-tech dummies are computer-programmed to simulate respiratory or cardiac distress, exhibit other illnesses, give birth, and require medical treatment while interacting with students and instructors. One dummy receives and responds to anesthesia.
The simulation gives nursing students more confidence and competence before they gain clinical experience with real patients.
"There's nothing worse than a petrified nursing student coming at you," Evans said.
The labs are equipped with video capability so students and instructor can review how well or poorly the nursing student performed.
"This isn't intended to replace clinicals. It's an enhancement to make them more comfortable and confident," said Jeff Mattingly, of Laerdal, the New York company that provides the simulation system.
Nursing students also learn to draw blood or start an IV on simulators. Evans demonstrated by typing into a computer the features of what he called an "IV starter's nightmare," an 80-year-old obese woman whose veins roll. He poked a needle into a simulator programmed with the same challenges.
Although many schools are starting to use simulators, Evans said Goldfarb is one of the first in the world to have so many.
With so much modern technology, the nursing school hasn't lost touch with its roots. The old Jewish Hospital School of Nursing opened in 1902. Barnes opened its in 1955. The two later combined.
There are plans to have a rotating museum exhibit of photos and items from the school's early days, including American Journal of Nursing publications from the early 1900s. Its archives are being restored by the Missouri History Museum library.
On the Net:
Barnes-Jewish Hospital: http://www.barnesjewish.org/
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing: http://www.aacn.nche.edu/index.htm