Alverno helps to bridge the health care gap

Leading the Charge

What does it mean to be an Alverno health care provider? In the eyes of Nicole Schwensow ’98, it means possessing tremendous skill, the ability to lead and a commitment to lifelong learning. It’s also something more.

“A physician once told me he knew I was from Alverno based upon how I interacted with patients,” recalls Schwensow, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Alverno before becoming a physician assistant. “My education prepared me to have frank and honest discussions with patients, providing them with the information they need to make decisions and be well-informed consumers of health care.”

Patti Varga, dean of the JoAnn McGrath School of Nursing and Health Professions, says it’s this something extra, this Alverno edge, that makes our nurses and health care graduates in demand by employers. And it’s what drives the College as we expand to meet vital health care needs, one of our top strategic priorities.

“We are becoming a destination for health careers,” says Peg Rauschenberger ’85, dean emerita of Nursing. “By building upon our long legacy as one of Wisconsin’s top nursing schools, we will offer new opportunities to students and meet health care needs in the Milwaukee area and beyond.”

Bridging the Gap

An aging population means demand for health care is rapidly increasing. But there aren’t enough physicians ready to meet that demand: the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.

To make sure people get the health care they need, other providers are being asked to step forward. That includes physician assistants, the fifth-fastest growing field in the country. That is why Alverno is working to launch a Physician Assistant (PA) program, with Schwensow at the helm.

“PAs have a collaborative relationship with supervising physicians,” says Schwensow, who has served as a physician assistant for 14 years. “We can perform physical exams, order tests, diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications as part of a team of caregivers.”

Upon graduation from the program, which is pending accreditation, Alverno PA students would receive a master of science degree and be eligible to sit for their certifying examination. This degree and certification will enable them to treat patients in hospitals, clinics and other settings where they can practice in primary care or in medical or surgical specialties.

To enter the program, eligible students must have a certain number of hours of direct patient care experience. Schwensow says many PA applicants will have studied biology as an undergraduate and served in such patient-centered roles as emergency medical technicians, certified nurse aides or phlebotomists.

Alverno is working to provide state-of-the-art equipment and updated facilities for these students to gain hands-on experience. On the list is a high-tech machine called an Anatomage, a tablesize, virtual dissection tool.
Alverno PA students will also benefit from the College’s 8 Abilities as well as opportunities to collaborate with Alverno’s other health students through interprofessional education experiences — all distinguishing factors that replicate what students will find in the real world.

“We all work together as health care providers,” says Schwensow. “To care for a patient, it is a team approach and it crosses all disciplines.”

New Opportunities to Lead

Alverno’s strategic priorities aim to provide even more opportunities to educate future health care leaders. That includes registered nurses seeking a Bachelor of Science in Nursing via a 12-month online program, students seeking a Master of Science in Nursing and the first class of Doctors of Nursing Practice, who will graduate this December.

What’s more, Alverno is building upon new undergraduate programs to prepare more health leaders. Students who aspire to become a physical therapist can major in Kinesiology, while students who want to be active in their communities can study Health Education.

Ultimately, it’s clear that no matter what a student chooses to study, she will be continuing an important legacy.

“Alverno has always trained highly skilled and compassionate nurses who make a difference in their communities every day,” Varga says. “Both our longstanding and new health care programs will ensure that the College and its graduates continue to serve the Milwaukee area and beyond in new and exciting ways, leading the charge to create a healthier world.”


This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Alverno Magazine.

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