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June 12, 2024

Let’s Make Nursing a STEM Designation: Interview with the Director of Nursing is STEM Coalition

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Ginelle Testa
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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 200K+ openings for RNs each year through 2031 – while college enrollments are on the decline.

On one hand, the U.S. is upset about the nursing shortage, but on the other hand, we aren’t actively acknowledging nursing as STEM to unlock funding and recognition. What can be done about it? 

The Nursing is STEM Coalition seeks to change this narrative by advocating for a new policy. 

UbiSim stands behind the Coalition and its efforts, as nursing is an integral part of STEM. 

“On behalf of Labster and our UbiSim platform for nurse training, our team is proud to support the Nursing is STEM Coalition. Nursing is a vital component of STEM, deeply rooted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Recognizing nursing as a STEM discipline is essential for acknowledging the critical role nurses play in our healthcare system,” said Shawn Boom, CEO of Labster, the parent company of UbiSim. 

UbiSim’s Lead Nurse Educator, Christine Vogel, MSN, RN, CHSE, CHSOS, also shared her support for the initiative. “As a nurse, nurse educator, and healthcare simulationist, I stand with the Nursing is STEM Coalition in recognizing nursing as a STEM profession. This recognition will attract diverse talent, inspire curious minds to pursue nursing, and ensure a robust, well-supported nursing workforce for the future," she said.

UbiSim had the privilege of interviewing Jason Garbarino, DNP, RN, GERO-BC, CNL, the Director of the Nursing is STEM Coalition. His team is on a mission to have the academic and professional discipline of nursing recognized as STEM and to see this adoption accelerate the growth of the professional workforce. 

Tell us about yourself and your personal ties to the coalition.

“I’ve been an RN for 16 years and taught nursing full-time for 11 years as a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Vermont (UVM). 

The push for nursing to be recognized as a STEM field is something that the nursing profession deserves, particularly coming off the tail end of the pandemic, when nurses led real-time innovation that saved hundreds of thousands, even millions, of lives. Look at what they did during the pandemic to keep patients and communities safe. 

If people can't see at this point in time that nursing is deep in science and technology and in engineering and mathematics, all STEM fields; I don't know when it will be approved. But we will keep pushing.”

Can you tell us about the history of this initiative?

“It’s something that a handful of academic, clinical, and healthcare organization nurse leaders, including our Coalition co-chairs Marion Leary and Rebecca Love, determined to get accomplished, would require an organized, methodical approach. The Coalition acknowledges that the hopeful success of this work is due to the longstanding efforts of clinical nurses and scholars who have been working and advocating for this for decades. If you do some Google research, you'll see that there have been academic leaders who have been advocating STEM designation for nursing and other healthcare professions for the last 20 years.

The last known proposal submitted to the Department of Homeland Security for STEM designation was submitted in 2016. Feedback the Coalition has received is to ensure that the next petition further articulates the role of STEM in nursing education and professional nursing. Additionally, the growing nursing workforce shortages should play a role in the consideration of STEM designation. Fast-forward eight years, our workforce needs are even more dire.” 

What are the ripple effects of nursing not being designated as STEM?

Workforce development/funding gaps: “There are hundreds of millions of dollars that are being allocated to STEM initiatives such as Workforce Development of K-12 students and those funds are specific to developing and recruiting the next generation of STEM majors. As we look at the continued growing nursing shortage, what a lost opportunity, right? Nursing programs, faculty, and students are being excluded from that funding.”

Enrollment issues: “There have been a number of instances where nursing students were at a disadvantage for not having that STEM designation. For example, students who are registering for courses that are required of nursing majors are not getting into those courses because majors that have that STEM designation get priority registration over the nursing students who don't have it. Additionally, nursing students have been excluded from campus STEM clubs and organizations.”

Do you think gender plays a role in the history of this issue?

“Nursing designation as a STEM field has the potential to advance the number of female STEM graduates overnight. A telling statistic is that if you took all the female graduates from nursing programs annually, the number would be more than the number of females who graduate from the top 30 STEM-designated fields combined.

Categorizing nursing as a STEM field also helps correct a long-standing perception that women are not pursuing rigorous math and science fields.”.

What is the coalition's next goal if the Department of Homeland Security agrees to classify nursing as STEM?

“We targeted DHS STEM designation first because they have an annual timeline for the review of STEM applications for designation. We started there, but there are a number of additional foundations and departments that either exclude nursing partially or in totality. The National Science Foundation, for example, has some grant funding that nursing is eligible to apply for, but then there are others that nursing is excluded from, so we want to have that opportunity across the board.”

What are the steps nurses and students can take to support this effort?

Join the coalition by signing the petition and spreading the word. Soon, we’ll also be a 501c3, and we’ll be able to accept donations to help our lobbying efforts.

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Ginelle Testa
UbiSim Story Teller

As an integral center of UbiSim's content team, Ginelle pens stories on the rapidly changing landscape of VR in nursing simulation. Ginelle is committed to elevating the voices of practicing nurses, nurse educators, and program leaders who are making a difference.

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