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A special tuition-free high school for nursing may be coming to Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association has come up with a rather clever way to combat the nursing shortage in the state – they’re going to make more.

The Harrisburg-based organization plans to launch a tuition-free private high school for students in grades 9-12 to prepare them for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, according to PA Nurses Association President Betsy M. Snook.

A registered and trademarked curriculum has already been developed for what Snook is calling the “nurses middle college,” which likely will be located in Harrisburg at the corner of Third and Riley streets. Currently, she says, there are no other programs in the state designed to prepare baccalaureate registered nurses beginning at the high school level.

Students will be admitted through a lottery process, Snook says. “So first come, first serve and then after the quota is filled there will be a waiting list. However, students must know that this is not an allied health program, but a high school that will focus on the nursing profession and help them move into a baccalaureate RN program at a college or university.

By ninth grade students typically already have a sense that they want to go into a profession like nursing, Snook says, and would be ready for an opportunity like this.

The Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter High School in Providence, is the first charter school in the country dedicated to the nursing/health care professions, and the first middle college in that state.

New York is planning to launch one modelled after the Rhode Island school next fall, according to a charter application announced on the State University of New York website. The SUNY Board of Trustees is a charter authorizer for the state. The New York nurses high school will be known as the Nurses Middle College Charter High School – Capital Region, and is affiliated with the Albany City School District.

A capital campaign to support the Pennsylvania nurses middle college is in the works, and there are plans to open satellite schools in other major Pennsylvania cities down the road, according to Snook. The Nurses Association originally applied to the Harrisburg Area School District to establish the nurses middle college as a charter school, but their proposal was denied.

“We are not ready yet to give specifics on the capital campaign but that is the route we are taking now,” she said. “It will no longer be a charter school but a privately funded school that is still free to students.”

In addition to helping to tackle the nursing shortage, the Harrisburg nurses middle college will also improve diversity in the nursing profession, Snook said. The school will be geared toward teaching students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds because they are the students who tend to have the most stacked against them when it comes to getting into baccalaureate nursing programs.

“Nurses need to look more like communities they are caring for,” she said, adding the majority of registered nurses in Pennsylvania are white females. According to the U.S. Census, individuals from ethnic and racial minority groups accounted for almost 40% of the population in 2020. Projections point to minority populations becoming the majority by 2043. Comparatively, Pennsylvania’s registered nurse population is 91% white/Caucasian, 5% black/African American, 3% Asian, and 2% Hispanic.

“We need to do better,” Snook said. “Even now what we are hearing from academics is that they may have 200 applications and only 25 of those students meet the qualifications of the program. It’s one of the most difficult majors on a college campus.”

Ten universities have already submitted letters of support, indicating that they will accept the school’s graduates into their nursing programs, she says. Harrisburg Area Community College has agreed to grant a nurse aide certificate to graduates of the high school.

HACC has also agreed to enroll parents or guardians of the students enrolled in the nurse’s high school into the nurse aide certificate program.

“We want to support students to get into a baccalaureate nursing program, because the more advanced degree offers them study in community health care and more and more

of our health care is going out into the community,” Snook said. “You just do not get into that with the associates degree.”






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