SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – This fall a new, first of its kind program will be starting at Augustana University in Sioux Falls.

Nurses who want to further their careers and become more specialized can now apply to do so at Augustana University. The new Master of Science in Nursing program offers two emphasis areas — adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AG-ACNP) and adult gerontology clinical nurse specialist (AG-CNS).

“There are no other programs in the state of South Dakota that train acute care nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists,” Dr. Lynn White, the program director said.

Pamela Barthle, who is an adult geriatric acute care nurse practitioner at Sanford Health and an assistant professor, explains what nurses trained in that first emphasis will do.

“That advanced practice nurse is specifically trained to work in an inpatient setting typically and care for those patients with acute and chronic illnesses and manage that patient throughout their whole hospitalization,” Barthle said.

According to the 2021 South Dakota Nursing Workforce Report, less than 11 percent of nurse practitioners in the state have an acute care certification.

“So throughout the United States, the trend has been for hospitals to hire adult and geriatric acute care nurse practitioners to function within the walls of the hospital to take care of those patients,” Barthle said. “That trend is now reaching South Dakota. And it’s something that is going to continue into the future. It is heavily promoted by states’ boards of nursing and different nursing organizations as well.”

Program director, Dr. Lynn White, is a clinical nurse specialist herself. She explains the second nursing emphasis in this program.

“The clinical nurse specialist practices within three areas within nurses: direct patient care, nursing practice and the systems level,” White said.

The number of those nurses in South Dakota has decreased by 13 percent since 2018 and 41 percent of those still working are nearing retirement.

“Because of what’s happening with the pandemic and our increased census and the increased needs of health care, both in the hospital setting and the community health setting, the need for clinical nurse specialists for their expertise and the services that they can provide is now more than ever,” White said.

Nurses wanting to apply for their Masters at Augustana will need to have their Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing as well as two years of clinical experience. Their first year in the program will be focused on core courses.

“In the second year of the program, they will be taking primarily clinical courses,” White said. “So that’s when they will do their clinical hours, they will do 780 hours of direct patient care. They will learn diagnosis management treatment, they will learn advanced procedures.”

White and Barthle are looking forward to getting more of these specialized nurses into South Dakota’s hospitals.

“It’s a very exciting, rewarding role in nursing and certainly I would encourage that if students are interested in that,” Barthle said.

“I’m excited for all of the excellent patient care and the patient outcomes that will be a result of the students that go through this program,” White said.

Starting in the summer of 2023, Augustana will also offer two post-master’s certificate options in those same two specializations.