Phase four of a four-step plan to expand Elon University’s School of Health Sciences is set to start construction January 2024 — which will add a nursing suite area and group all nursing staff together.

Otherwise known as the Francis Center, the School of Health Sciences is the newest of Elon’s six schools. Though things have been running well in the new program, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

According to Interim Director Stacey Thomas, a lack of space for faculty members has often left them scattered around the building and struggling to communicate with one another.

“I’ve gone a week without seeing some of my coworkers,” Thomas said. 

Thomas also said communication is critical, and it's harder to accomplish naturally when faculty is spread out through sharing offices with members of other departments.

Sophomore Allie Schult said the problems do not stop with communication.

“There's a lot of changes happening, like our chain of command — the people who are running the program — so there's a lot of confusion up there and that trickles down all the way to us,” Schult said. “If they don't know what's going on, then obviously we don't.” 

Schult said she believes the confusion is mainly due to the program being so new and spread out.

Founded in 2021,Thomas said the school currently has 159 undergraduate students with 33 students in its accelerated program of learning.

This accelerated program allows students to complete the program in two years as opposed to four. The program is designed for students who already have a bachelor's degree in another subject but want to get another one in nursing.

Professor of nursing Shirley Etienne also expressed how it was challenging being spread out from her colleagues.

Etienne grew up in Brooklyn and started at Elon for the fall 2023 semester. Despite the challenges of being spread out, she said the adjustment of coming to Elon has been relatively seamless, both academically and culturally.

In addition to the nursing school, the Francis Center also houses students who major in physical therapy and physician assistant studies. The Francis Center is located at  400 N. O'Kelly Ave., past the Danieley Center Neighborhood and Crest Apartments.

According to previous Elon News Network coverage, universitywide renovations have been underway since fall 2020 to accommodate the school’s growing undergraduate enrollment. 

Of the four phases of development, phase one focused on building the Francis Center and giving faculty and students a place to work steadily. Phase two added classrooms to provide more space for students and teachers to separate themselves from other majors with whom they previously shared spaces. Phase three, which is scheduled to finish construction in December 2023, adds two additional nursing classrooms, a dedicated nursing lab and additional common areas for students to work. 

Phase four will add a nursing suite area and finish grouping all nursing staff together.

According to Thomas big-picture leaps that are being made include the eventual addition of a master's program at the nursing school. The only options now available are undergraduate study as well as an accelerated program. The school also offers a nursing fellows program.

Sophomore Gabi Carlson is a nursing fellows, and said she finds it to be a tight-knit group of friends. Carlson said there are about 20 nursing scholars in total.

According to Carlson, the initial goal of the program was to promote diversity, equity and inclusion which is important to reduce healthcare disparities and volunteer opportunities. Carlson said the scholars program also bridges the gap between inequities in healthcare.

During her freshman year, Carlson said she only had two events for the Nursing Scholars Program, along with a couple of opportunities to speak with honors weekend events about the program. Unfortunately, this year, she said she has had no contact from the nursing scholars program at all. 

“I think that it's very important for the program to have someone representing it who feels passionate about it, and I do feel very passionate about it,” Carlson said. 

Carlson said she hopes to find her passion for the program again after having no contact with the nursing scholars on the phone.

Another significant step for the program is to get the proper accreditation by the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation. Currently, the school is accredited by the North Carolina Board of Nursing and will be evaluated by CNEA in November. 

If the CNEA approves Elon’s nursing program, it will provide extra levels of national accreditation to current and previous program members. 

Though the four phases market toward the big-picture success of the program, day-to-day well-being is also being dealt with. There is a student affairs committee that relays student concerns to people in charge, such as Thomas. 

Jeanmarie Koonts, an advisor and professor at the school of nursing, said lots of things will be changing, including the color of the nurses’ scrubs from white to gray and giving time off of nursing clinicals for big events like family weekend and homecoming.

“The students are really doing an amazing job,” Koonts said. “We hope the students are heard because they are an integral part.”

Carlson and Schult both praised these changes and said they feel like they are being heard for day-to-day improvements. They also said that the professors and faculty were very approachable and becoming more emotionally responsive.

Although difficult and stressful, Carlson and Schult said they have high hopes for their remaining clinical hours as they continue to be more capable through learning in the classroom. 

“The program as a whole, I am really excited to see where it goes and how it blossoms,” Schult said. “I am excited that we get to grow with it.”