With nearly 1,700 nursing students enrolled today—about 600 of whom started in the fall 2023 semester—William Paterson University has become one of the largest producers of nurses in New Jersey. At a time when there is a critical shortage of nurses across the state and nation, WP is playing a vital role in the health of its residents and economy.
Our nursing enrollment has surged in the past few years, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, thanks in part to our new WP Online academic offerings in nursing, such as the popular accelerated RN to BSN program—for registered nurses seeking to advance their careers with a 4-year degree—as well as various graduate nursing degrees and post-graduate certificates.
To take our successful impact to the next level, University leaders launched a School of Nursing within WP’s College of Science and Health at the start of the fall 2023 semester. With a School of Nursing, our nursing programs will have the singular focus of their own associate dean, who will work to expand partnerships with healthcare providers and forge additional academic and professional opportunities for current and future students.
Minerva Salinas Guttman, EdD, RN, APN, who brings more than five decades of experience in nursing both regionally and internationally, was selected as the founding associate dean of the new School of Nursing. Two months into her new role, she spoke with WP Magazine about her road here, today’s nursing industry, and her plans for the future.
Q: What brought you to William Paterson University?
A: After 23 years leading Fairleigh Dickinson University’s nursing program, in 2021, I decided to slow down, step down, and return to a faculty position. This past spring, a friend and fellow nursing administrator sent me the link to William Paterson University’s job posting for the founding associate dean role, and said to me, “Nursing, right now, needs all of us. You just can’t step down from administration.” I thought the position sounded interesting and I loved the idea of returning to a public university, which is where I had spent most of my higher education career: first at SUNY Downstate and then at UMDNJ’s School of Nursing (the latter was merged into Rutgers School of Nursing). Now, I’m here, and I’m so excited; my friend was right. We have a new School of Nursing, close to 600 new students majoring in nursing, and new faculty hired in response to the high demand: It’s a nice time to come in—when so much is new, and we have so much to do.
Q: How would you describe the state of nursing today?
A: Nursing is exploding. The need for nurses in the healthcare system is so great right now, for two main reasons. First, many nurses have recently retired. Second, before COVID, many colleges and universities didn’t have the resources—in both faculty and physical space—to support nursing programs, and many hospitals were saying they didn’t have the resources to accommodate nursing students for their clinical rotations. So, nothing was favorable for higher enrollment in nursing programs. Then, COVID hit; then, retirements hit. The demand for nurses is back and it’s strong; we have too many nursing vacancies. On a brighter note, though, today’s nurses are more educated, with many more of them pursuing bachelor’s and graduate degrees than in the past. Because of that, I think they have better patient outcomes and do a better job of communicating with the doctors and other healthcare professionals. Doctors used to complain that “The nurses didn’t tell me,” and now, nurses are more comfortable calling the doctor to confer or even to say they have a couple questions.
Q: What do you see as the biggest strengths of WP’s nursing program?
A: The curriculum is solid and nicely laid out, the clinical program is strong and successfully partners with hospitals who are very good at teaching our students in the field, and the reputation of the School of Nursing is excellent. People know if you are a nursing graduate of William Paterson University, you are prepared well, and for that reason, we often have students who transfer here from private universities that are far more expensive. Our School intentionally hires master’s- or doctoral-prepared practicing nurses as adjunct professors. Thanks to their current, real-world knowledge, they reinforce the integration of evidence-based practice into our curriculum, and it shows in the clinical experiences of our students. Atlantic Health, with whom we work very closely, assigns our nursing students to our preferred locations for clinical rotations. They have a dedicated education unit where students are paired one-to-one with nurses—it’s a mentor-mentee relationship. That’s a very good thing, for our students to have that experience, and Atlantic Health gives priority to our students for those experiences. Of no surprise is that we have no problem with employment of our students once they pass the boards—and pass them, they do. Our January 2023 class of undergraduate nurses nailed a 100 percent pass rate on the national NCLEX exam, and our May 2023 undergraduate class—the University’s largest group of nursing grads in history—had a 96.55 percent pass rate.
Q: What are your immediate plans for WP’s School of Nursing?
A: I would like us to create a template for success that would be implemented in every nursing class. Therein, I see two things we should do: 1 – Regularly assess students, beyond the basics of nursing – their level of reading, their level of writing, and so on. Even when I taught doctoral-level classes as a professor, I did that because eventually those students must write their dissertations, and if they can’t write well, we must do something about it now. 2 – Implement into all classes what I call “integrated skills reinforcement,” which is an educational approach that aims to help nurses develop a holistic understanding of patient care by integrating and reinforcing skills related to patient assessment, critical thinking, communication, and clinical procedures, among other nursing responsibilities. I have researched and tested this and also published a book on the topic. Students who have that strategy implemented in their courses perform much better than those who do not—in the courses, on their exams, and in how they perform in clinical areas. William Paterson has a 56-year history of success in nursing, and my goal is to advance that success and ensure it continues.
*Interview edited for length and clarity.
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