Op-Ed | CUNY’s expanding nursing program footprint fills New York need

Lehman College nursing students pose for a photo. Nursing is one of the most popular majors at Lehman College.
Lehman College nursing students pose for a photo. Nursing is one of the most popular majors at Lehman College.
Photo courtesy Gayle Greenberg

One of CUNY’s contributions to the vitality of New York City is our role educating nurses for the city’s health care workforce. Our nursing programs graduate 1,800 nurses a year, about half the new nurses hired by the city’s hospitals, clinics and medical facilities. It’s an impressive number but the growing demand for nurses in our city and state means CUNY needs to do more — and we are.

This month, we opened a new $95 million Nursing Education, Research and Practice Center at Lehman College in the Bronx that will enable Lehman’s highly ranked nursing programs to triple their capacity to train new nurses. The new center, funded primarily by the state, will extend CUNY’s reach as a vital pipeline for the city’s health care sector, and it will expand access to opportunities in the rapidly growing field. In all these ways, the new Lehman nursing center represents what CUNY does best — lifting New York.

Lehman’s nurse training center is just the latest investment in CUNY by our state and city to strengthen New York’s public health infrastructure. In November, I joined Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams in unveiling the master plan for the coming Science Park and Research Campus (SPARC) at Kips Bay, a career and education hub for the life sciences. This transformation of Hunter College’s Brookdale campus will provide top-of-the-line facilities for programs at three CUNY colleges, including the Hunter- Bellevue School of Nursing, which was founded nearly 70 years ago and is now the city’s largest public institution of nursing education.

A Growing Need

Nursing shortages have persisted across the country since the pandemic, and the situation is especially acute in New York. The state is projected to have a shortage of nearly 40,000 nurses by 2030 — a gap that will be most consequential in communities where there are already long-standing health care inequities. The new Lehman nursing center is an important part of efforts to address the crisis by expanding nurse-training opportunities in public higher education.

The facility also aligns with a law signed by Gov. Hochul last year to ease the nursing shortage by permitting nursing students to complete up to one-third of their clinical training through simulation experience. The Lehman nursing center features state-of-the-art equipment including 22 robotic patient simulators that can be programmed to replicate hundreds of medical conditions. There are training rooms including one that simulates a city apartment where future nurses will learn how to provide home care to patients with limited mobility.

The CUNY Way

The Lehman expansion is a shining example of CUNY’s long tradition as a leader of nursing education in New York. Today, CUNY offers more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and credit-bearing advanced certificate programs in nursing at 13 colleges. To expand hiring pathways for our students and support the career advancement of clinical nurses, we partner with local health systems and providers as well as health care workers’ union 1199SEIU and the Mayor’s Office of Talent and Workforce Development.

I’m also proud to say that our constellation of programs continues to serve as a critical pipeline for new and advanced-practice nurses as well as an unparalleled driver of diversity in the field.

Nearly 70% of CUNY nursing students come from underrepresented groups, which greatly exceeds statewide and national averages. This is important not only to our mission of expanding career opportunities for New Yorkers of all backgrounds but to our commitment to historically underserved communities. Research shows that a more diverse health care workforce can lead to improved access and outcomes for people of color.

Many CUNY students contribute to their communities, and few do it more selflessly than our nursing students. During the pandemic, 2,500 of them stepped up to help assist staff on the front lines at state-run medical facilities. More than 1,000 took part in the NYC Health + Hospitals vaccine rollout. We were proud that Lehman nursing alumna Sandra Lindsay — now vice president for public health advocacy at Northwell Health — was the first American to receive a COVID vaccine in December 2020. And that another alum, Patricia Cummings, who earned her nursing degree at Medgar Evers College, administered the vaccine to Vice President Kamala Harris.

CUNY’s nursing programs are a key player in the expansion of health equity in New York, and it’s with the continued support of our partners in state and city government that we will be able to train and deploy the nurses that the city will need in the years ahead.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.

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