Concordia University Chicago nursing students are now getting firsthand experience at West Suburban Hospital through a new partnership between the university and Resilience Healthcare, the entity that purchased the hospital and Chicago’s Weiss Memorial Hospital less than a year ago.

Through the partnership, students in the university’s newly launched nursing program will be able to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it directly – but with supervision – in an actual hospital to gain practical experience.

Nursing students will work within all of West Suburban’s areas of care, including gastroenterology, oncology and orthopedics, while Concordia will provide nurses within the Resilience system with professional development opportunities, such as adjunct professorships.

The partnership also serves to familiarize nursing students with the communities that West Suburban serves, which is primarily the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, with the possibility of providing permanent employment at the hospital after they have completed their studies and obtained nursing licenses.

“We’d definitely love to retain all of them or as many as we can,” said Manoj Prasad, Resilience Healthcare CEO.

The program launched in September, so no Concordia nursing students have yet gone on to become employed nurses of West Suburban. The student-to-employee pipeline, however, could provide a solution locally for the nursing shortage happening nationally, official said.

“It’s a real win-win,” said Eli Hestermann, Concordia’s vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer.

Roughly 100,000 nurses left the workforce during the pandemic and by 2027, almost 900,000, or almost one-fifth of 4.5 million total registered nurses, are expected to leave the industry, according to the results of survey released last April by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Dominican University, located in River Forest, is launching a similar partnership with Rush Oak Park Hospital in January. Both Prasad and Hestermann said they are glad to see other universities and hospitals teaming up to combat the nursing shortage.

“There’s not a real sense of competition,” Hestermann said. “There’s so much need for new nurses, and each nursing program can only accommodate so many students.”

Concordia received state approval for its nursing program last February, during which time Hestermann, also a Concordia biology professor, served as the dean of the university’s College of Health, Science & Technology. Hestermann developed the Concordia’s nursing program with the program’s director, Kristen Bayer, and oversaw the construction of the nursing simulation center, built specifically for the program.

The program has been well received among Concordia students. With 57 students in the program this fall, nursing is the most popular major for transfer students and the third most popular major for all incoming new Concordia students.

“Our admissions people, our nursing people are just ecstatic about how well it’s been received,” said Hestermann.

While this specific four-year nursing program is new for Concordia, the university has a long history of partnering with West Suburban to train future nurses, Hestermann explained.

“Decades ago, there was a joint nursing program where students would do their first two years at Concordia and then move over to the hospital for their intensive nursing training,” he said.

West Suburban, which was under different ownership then, split from the nursing program and the university over time, according to Hestermann.

“That just became a weaker and weaker link for us,” said Hestermann.

While Resilience Healthcare was in the process of purchasing West Suburban and Weiss Memorial Hospital from Pipeline Health, Concordia leadership decided to relaunch its nursing program and was looking for a community partner where students could receive practical training.

Concordia found a willing partner in Prasad, who had hopes of his own regarding nursing education, given the shortage of nurses and available space at West Suburban.

“Ever since I started looking at these hospitals, the idea of having a nursing school was right front and center for me,” he said.

 In the past, West Suburban had its own nursing school and the school building, now empty, was acquired by Prasad along with the rest of the hospital’s campus. The building served as both the place where classes were taught and student housing, according to Prasad.

The building is not being used for Concordia’s nursing program, but Prasad has plans to put it back in use as part of his wider efforts to revitalize the safety net hospital. He declined to share any specifics related to the building’s – and West Suburban’s – future. He did, however, say that he is exploring more partnership opportunities for the hospitals, which he said have grown in services and staffing since Resilience officially took over last December. West Suburban recently launched a new inpatient substance abuse detox center. Roughly 4,050 patients have gone through the center already, according to Prasad.