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'A seed of hope': CSUB receives $6 million to expand its nursing and health care programs

Yamilette Iniguez has been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as a nurse in an emergency room. She has comforted grieving families, all while dealing with a critical shortage of nurses and health care professionals. 

During that time, she has been working on a master's degree to become a nurse practitioner through Cal State Bakersfield and it's given her a reason for optimism. 

"I see the desperate need in our region for primary health care providers, but I also see hope," she said.

And more good news is on the way: CSUB's nursing and health training programs are set for growth and investment thanks to $6 million in funding from the most recent state budget. Two big beneficiaries will be the university's nursing department and new master's in public health degree.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, said the funding is a "seed of hope" that will grow and nurture students who can help to address the Central Valley's great health care needs. This investment will be felt in shorter wait times in doctor's offices, improved health care access in rural communities and community education that can change health care outcomes. 

"This will transform lives in our community, this will save lives in our community," CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny said at a press event Monday.

Debbie Wilson, chairwoman of the nursing department, said it's too soon to say exactly how the money will be allocated, but the department's goal is the increase the nursing graduates, upgrade the simulation labs where nurses learn valuable skills and improve student support services. She said increasing the number of nurses in the community will pay dividends.

"The math is simple: more funding for our nursing programs means more nurses out in our community," Wilson said. "More nurses out in our community means better access to care for everyone."

Wilson said the community needs graduates at both the entry and advanced levels of nursing. She added that CSUB's nurse practitioner program offers desperately needed high-quality primary care providers. That program is getting a big boost, too.

The new state funding will help the nursing department establish a doctorate for its Family Nurse Practitioner program. On Monday, Zelezny announced that this would be the second doctorate the university would offer. 

Heidi He, the director of the graduate nursing program, said nurse practitioner programs will be expected to offer a doctorate by 2025, so the university needs to stay ahead of the curve. She said the university has been planning for the transition. The funding is "perfect timing," and this will allow the department to hire new faculty and staff.

Brynn Carrigan, director of Kern County Public Health Services Department, said she's excited to see how this funding will support CSUB's master's in public health, which debuted this fall. Up until this semester, there wasn't a program in Kern County for students interested in a public health degree and the health department had to look for out-of-town graduates.

"It is exciting to see a successful partnership blossom into an even bigger opportunity for our future workforce and our community," Carrigan said.

Salas said he looks forward to seeing how this funding will expand support for many more health care workers like Iniguez who are in the trenches for their community. 

"It has been tough for health care workers, but when people ask me if becoming a nurse is worth all the risk and stress and the long hours of suffering that we see, I always say yes," Iniguez said. "When you have the opportunity to help somebody in need, the feeling you get in return makes the sacrifice worth it."

You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394. 

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