Amid a projected need to fill more than 1 million job openings for registered nurses by 2022, enrollment in an accelerated master’s program for people seeking to re-career into nursing has reached an all-time high at the University of Arizona.
In May, a record 113 students began the Master’s Entry to the Profession of Nursing (MEPN) program at the UA College of Nursing, the only program of its kind in Arizona.
Offered in both Tucson and Phoenix, the 15-month MEPN program is for students holding university degrees in other fields who want to become registered nurses. Students in the newest class hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines, including fashion design, Spanish translation, English literature, journalism and neuroscience.
“MEPN students bring depth and breadth from their previous careers to nursing,” said Terry Badger, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, professor, division director and administrative lead for the MEPN program. “They are our future leaders and change agents in health care. Through this unique program, we are strengthening the nursing workforce and improving patient care in Arizona and beyond.”
MEPN student Mayra Alvarez, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Earth and Space Exploration from Arizona State University in 2012, says she began rethinking her career path after she realized that volunteering at a nursing home was more fulfilling than her work as a data analyst.
“After I graduated, I didn’t feel satisfied,” said Alvarez. “I felt there was something in me that was missing. I was using my degree, but I was alone in a room trying to figure out data with no human interaction. I noticed that my personal satisfaction was much higher when I was volunteering at the nursing home. Interacting with people who needed me and helping to improve their lives gave me a wonderful feeling.”
A nursing home volunteer since age 8, Alvarez had never considered becoming a nurse until one of her residents told her she should.
“She asked me, ‘Are you a nurse? You should become a nurse and stay here with me,’” said Alvarez. “That was the click. I didn’t see myself as a nurse at that time, even though I love to help. But to her, even though I didn’t have the degree, I was that nurse she wanted me to be.”
Alvarez and her classmates, who began the MEPN program on May 16, will graduate in August 2017. After earning their degrees, they will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
After graduation, Alvarez hopes to work as a nurse for a few years, then return to the UA College of Nursing to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and become a nurse practitioner. Down the road, Alvarez and her husband, an internal medicine resident in Sierra Vista, would like to open a practice together in a rural community.