Accelerating Students’ Dream Careers

Nursing program graduate standing against column on campus green

NSU-SDSU partnership making difference for rural nursing needs                                                                                                            

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Shawna Malsom has always known she wanted to be a nurse, advocating for patients on their best days and their toughest days.

“I’ve always loved helping people and I’ve always have had the patience and compassion to work with people,” said Malsom, of Aberdeen.

But her path to her dream career wasn’t a linear one. Malsom graduated from Presentation College years ago with a degree in radiology technology and then worked for more than a decade with adults with developmental disabilities at Aberdeen’s Aspire.

When she learned about the Accelerated Nursing Program at Northern State University, she found the perfect way to complete her nursing degree despite her busy schedule.

“You’re able to complete it in one year and start an actual career,” said Malsom, now a nurse on the behavioral health unit at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital. “That’s what I wanted.”

Now in its seventh year, the Accelerated Nursing Program, a partnership with South Dakota State University, is a 12-month, Bachelor of Science in Nursing program for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Academic Advisor Sara Olson said the program was designed for students who decided later in life or later in their academic career that they want to pursue nursing.

Olson said the partnership between Northern and SDSU is wonderful.

“We jokingly refer to our students as dual citizens because they are an SDSU student, but they get the privileges of a Northern student,” she said. That means they have access to student services, including Disability Services and the Counseling Center, and can also use the Barnett Center for exercise purposes.

The program began because faculty saw a need – Northern students who wanted to pursue nursing were having to transfer elsewhere. This partnership lets them complete their bachelor’s degree at Northern and then stay on campus to apply for the one-year accelerated nursing program through SDSU.

Grad Stayed at NSU to Pursue Nursing

That was the case for Thomas Haile, who graduated from Northern in May 2018 with a degree in biology, a minor in chemistry and a certificate in allied health science. His interest in health science combined with the ability to earn another degree in only 12 months sparked an interest in the Accelerated Nursing Program.

“I already knew the campus and the environment, so I decided to stay in Aberdeen and get my nursing degree,” Haile said. “SDSU is also one of the best schools for nursing and that added to the factor of me wanting to stay around and pursue my dream.”

But the program is not just for Northern students. Olson said students also come from states such as California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, where nursing programs have waitlists for up to four years.

NSU-SDSU nursing students also have a variety of life experiences, Olson said, ranging in age from 21 up to their 50s, and including single people, married people and parents.

Meeting the Need for Rural Nursing

The program is also a good fit for students from rural South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, Olson said. It’s also perfect for students who might not have otherwise been able to pursue the degree – like a stay-at-home mom from Faulkton who completed the program and is now on her way to becoming a nurse practitioner, planning to work locally.

“The need is substantial in South Dakota, which is another reason we started this,” Olson said. “Nurses are retiring at a rate faster than they’re entering the profession.”

In the United States, registered nursing employment is projected to grow 15 percent through 2026 – much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the current workforce ages and health care needs grow, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing expects the shortage of nurses in the U.S. to intensify. For South Dakota, an added difficulty is low wages compared to other states, according to the American Nurses Association.

Despite challenges, programs like the NSU-SDSU partnership are making a difference.

“Rural nursing recruitment is challenging, but through partnerships with programs like this one at NSU, we’re making strides to build a pipeline for the future health care workers of our community,” said Kila LeGrand, the Director of Nursing and Clinical Services at Sanford Aberdeen. “Graduates of this program often choose to put down roots in our community, or others communities in the region. Overall, the addition of this program has been beneficial not only to Sanford Aberdeen, but also to many of the health care facilities in South Dakota.”

“The accelerated nursing program is a win-win for the community and students involved,” said Kelli Fischer, Chief Nursing Officer at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital. “This program allows students to work in a fast-paced environment and give a local taste of the nursing opportunities in the community. With this relationship, students have found great places to live and grow to start their nursing careers.”

Olson said the program has a large focus on rural nursing. Clinical hours start here in Aberdeen at Avera and Sanford, but all students get experiences in a rural setting – in places including Sisseton, Webster, Redfield and Faulkton.

Nursing Program Requires Dedication

Malsom said students must be dedicated, with organizational skills and motivation. The teachers are there to help guide you and provide all the tools you need, but they’re not going to hold your hand.

“It’s a one-year program, so it’s fast-paced. And that’s what I think scares people about this program,” she said. “But it’s something that should be looked at as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.”

In each semester, you build off what you learned in previous semesters, so you never lose the knowledge that you learned at the very beginning.

Also, students have a lot of clinical hours starting first semester and benefit from an amazing simulation lab, so they are very well prepared, Malsom said.

Students Recommend Nursing Program

Despite the challenges, Haile encourages others wanting to pursue a nursing degree to enroll.

“If nursing is your passion and you are willing to do what it takes, for sure it is a very rewarding program,” Haile said. “There will be challenging moments but it will get you ready for the future career you want to practice.”

Haile said after graduation, he’d like to start on a medical surgical floor and then move to something specific after acquiring the necessary experience and skills to feel confident about it.

“Nursing has been one of the most trusted professions for a very long time and it has been my passion to join that part and provide quality health care to patients in many ways,” Haile said.

Malsom also recommends the Accelerated Nursing Program.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “And I don’t think I would’ve been as dedicated if I would’ve done this program younger.”

And now, Malsom has a job she loves, working to be a voice for patients at difficult times in their lives – and working to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

‘They’re Retooling Their Lives’

Last year the Accelerated Nursing Program had a 93.9 percent pass rate and 100 percent job placement, and Olson said it’s very rewarding to see the students – some with spouses, children and mortgages – succeed.

“They’re retooling their lives,” she said. “Maybe they went one direction when they were in college, and now that they’ve been working for a while they realize that they want to make a change. And nursing is the direction they want to go. We’re a way for them to meet that goal. It’s one year of their life for a lifetime of a great career.”

The NSU-SDSU Accelerated Nursing Program is still accepting applicants for its class that begins in January 2020. For more information, contact Academic Advisor Sara Olson at 605-626-2427 or

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a regional university that offers outstanding academics and exceptional extracurricular activities at an affordable price on a safe, welcoming campus. Northern State recently announced its Educational Impact Campaign, with a goal of raising $55 million for a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, new athletic and recreation fields, and an on-campus regional sports complex. Once the campaign is complete, NSU will be the recipient of more than $100 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions