The University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Nursing department has received a #63 ranking for its master’s programs from U.S. News and World Report. This achievement makes UNH’s master’s nursing program the highest-ranked in northern New England.  

“We were pleased to see that the work we do puts us among peers that we are proud to be a part of,” said Gene Harkless, associate professor and chair of the department of nursing. “It documents what we’ve known all along that we have a very strong nursing program, and this was a way to show it to others.” 

The demand for health care workers in New Hampshire, especially in rural and underserved communities, is not a new issue. According to a December 2018 survey, over 2,000 health care worker vacancies existed in hospitals and community mental health centers across New Hampshire. This situation has only worsened due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  

Harkless, in a previous interview with the New Hampshire, credited part of the worker shortage to changes in the care available—such as the rise of at-home care—and the high level of medical skills required for many treatments. Another problem is the care demands of New Hampshire’s rapidly aging population. It is estimated that by 2030 almost one-third of the state’s inhabitants will be over 65.  

UNH’s nursing program has endeavored to meet these health care demands through the creation of new graduate programs, such as nurse practitioner programs that focus on psychiatric mental health and adult gerontology acute care. The adult gerontology acute care program will welcome its first group of students in August. 

In addition, UNH has a direct entry master’s in nursing (DEMN) program that “offers an accelerated clinical nurse leader track for those without a prior nursing degree.”  

Harkless says that DEMN “has contributed significantly to helping workforce needs” as it allows individuals to gain nurse certification and enter the workforce without having to complete a second baccalaureate.  

UNH and the state of New Hampshire are also working to address health care shortages through the development of the College of Health and Human Services’ Health Sciences Simulation Center (HSSC). The structure will include offices, classrooms, common meeting spaces, and “fully equipped simulation labs that mimic hospital, clinic, primary care and other health care settings, according to a UNH press release.  

The center hopes to encourage interdisciplinary cooperation for students majoring in health and human services – including nursing, occupational therapy, athletic training, and health sciences – who will work with each other during simulations.  

HSSC’s additional space will also allow the nursing program to expand with the goal to graduate about 130 nursing students per year.  

Construction on the HSSC is set to be completed in August.  

Aside from the nursing department’s programs, Harkless expressed pride in the nursing faculty and students who “have helped grow and innovate this program” and the work they have accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

 She credits Patricia Puccilli, nursing clinical associate professor and undergraduate program director, for coordinating vaccine distribution in the UNH community. Earlier in the year, Puccilli was able to set up a last-minute clinic for faculty before the leftover vaccines expired.  

“Once we began to plan for student vaccinations [Puccilli] became one of the keystones of that committee and has proven herself to be a leader in accomplishing the number of vaccines that have been given to both faculty and students,” said Harkless. “It’s been really amazing.” 

She also stressed the instrumental role of UNH nursing students have played as nursing assistants and vaccine distributors.  

“[Nursing students] were able to provide a really foundational workforce for vaccine clinics, and we’re going to be instrumental in making sure the university is [vaccinated],” Harkless said. “This is really giving back to the community and we’re happy to do it.”  

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.