Eastern Iowa Community Colleges is revamping its nursing program after a wave of resignations from staffers who say the college overworked faculty, failed to invest in new equipment and ignored teachers when they tried to force improvements.
The nursing program is the college's largest career program, with 314 students, offered at all three EICC campuses, Clinton, Muscatine and Scott. There are 670 students in the pre-nursing pipeline preparing to enter it.
Former staffers say the resignations are a sign the program is in jeopardy, pointing to a recent internal review that highlighted their complaints. But college officials say otherwise. A week after four staffers resigned within 30 minutes on Aug. 1, EICC announced in an email to students it had hired a new nursing program director and would share news this fall about new, "state-of-the-art" equipment.
It's too little, too late for Nicole Tucker of Morrison, Illinois, who also resigned Aug. 1.
“We really needed administration to wake up,” Tucker said. Ultimately, “Eight full-time members resigned in a department of 11. That has to send up some red flags.”
Tucker said resigning was their only recourse after administrators ignored their concerns. Instructors, who often worked seven days a week, Tucker said, pleaded for new or even functioning equipment, saying students were learning on broken or outdated devices. But those requests were denied or treated as low-priority, “resulting in stonewalling of any hope of program improvement or forward movement," Tucker said.
For example, in the nursing lab, the students were expected to work with a computerized drug dispenser similar to those used in local hospitals. But, Tucker said, the system wasn't connected to a server, so "there was no way for it to go live.”
In other cases, instructors often asked students to pretend a machine worked or to imagine hospital-room basics like privacy curtains because the equipment either didn't work or the college lacked it. Former staffers say the requests for upgrades weren't extravagant — just the basics needed to teach nursing students how to perform in real-world settings.
“We asked for refurbished hospital beds,” Tucker said, and an intravenous pump to teach students how to program such a device.
“Health care is ever-evolving. It is constantly changing, so our ability to educate must continue to evolve," Tucker said. "We have a strong duty to help develop their critical thinking and enhance their practical learning experience, to prepare them to care for patients after graduation, but we can’t do it with imaginative role play.”
College says program remains strong
For its part, EICC says the staff turnover is normal and the program is in good health. It is fully accredited, fully enrolled and fully staffed, producing 63 registered nurses and 30 licensed practical nursing graduates this past year, according to the college. Its graduation rate hovers around 76 percent.
EICC said it completed a review of the nursing program in the spring, prompting some of the changes.
"Even successful programs need to continuously improve and adopt to changing conditions, including changing technologies, changing demands of the industry, and changing student demographics and expectations," the college said in a statement. "EICC’s program review process regularly takes a close look at each of its programs, listening closely to its students, surveying employers and examining curriculum and classroom technology."
Ninety-percent of program graduates are working locally, said Vice Chancellor for Education and Training Joan Kindle. And EICC has a 95-percent pass rate on the national licensure examination for registered nurses, one of the highest rates in the state.
Lori Haugen, the new nursing program director, and Dawn Boettcher, associate dean for health programs, "Both bring many years of experience as nurses, and a great familiarity with your program," the college said in its letter to students.
The letter goes on to say that “a variety of new instructors” will come on board this fall in many programs, including nursing. “Our incoming nursing faculty join Eastern Iowa Community Colleges with long lists of qualifications and vast experience in the field,” the letter reads. “They are committed to working closely with all of you to provide you with the high-quality instruction and personal attention you need to be successful in your classes.
“Finally, the program will soon be receiving new, state-of-the-art equipment; you will be hearing more about those new additions to enhance your classroom and practical experience throughout the fall semester,” the letter says.
The college plans to spend $28,000 on new equipment, including simulation software. EICC said it also is shifting its curriculum to better match expectations from EICC partners and employers.
“There is no question that change is happening at the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges," Kindle said, "and these changes, all focused on the needs of our communities and the success of our students, are bringing a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm to our programs."
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