ISU: a leader in the health professions

By Linda Hatzenbuehler

The word is out across Idaho: If you want to build a rewarding career in the health professions, Idaho State University is the place to go.

We offer 50 degree programs in the health professions — more than any other college or university in Idaho — and award more than a third of our degrees in the health professions.

Students want to enter careers where the job market is strong. Both the national and state labor departments list health professionals as “hot” based upon the number of job vacancies nationwide. ISU offers degrees in seven of the top 10 “Best Jobs of 2015,” compiled by U.S. News and World Report. Those jobs include physician assistant studies, nurse practitioner, dental hygiene and physical therapy.

Quality Matters

The high demand for our health programs is fueled not only because ISU offers such a wide variety of popular degree programs but because ISU’s health programs are of high quality. Students graduating from our programs excel on professional licensure, certification and registration exams needed for practice. Employers want to employ our graduates and in some cases prefer our graduates to those graduating from programs at other institutions.

The quality of our programs is related to a number of unique experiences we offer students that add value to their educational experiences. For example, ISU offers clinical experience for students in 12 university-based outpatient clinics that serve the general public. Clinics include speech and language, audiology, dental hygiene, dentistry, physical therapy and family medicine to name a few. ISU’s Division of Health Sciences also houses the Northwest Center for Fluency Disorders, which conducts the world’s only intense, two-week summer clinic for adults who stutter.

The ISU Experience

Our students — mentored by working professionals and clinical faculty — learn the values and ethics for interprofessional practice, the roles and responsibilities for interprofessional practice and the fundamentals of practicing and communicating as a team member. Students also learn to use state-of-the-art electronic medical record systems at ISU clinics that future employers use. Motivated students at ISU can also obtain a degree in Spanish for Health Professionals — the only program of its kind in the county — at the same time they are completing their professional degrees. The Spanish degree further enhances their ability to serve diverse communities at home and globally.

Why Enrollment Caps?

The high demand for ISU’s health professional programs can be a source of frustration for potential students because we must cap our enrollments. Understanding the reasons for these enrollment caps, which results in many qualified students being turned away annually, is not as simple as it may seem. Multiple factors contribute to why we limit the number of students we admit to our programs. For example, all of ISU’s programs are fully accredited, and professional accreditation requirements can contribute to enrollment caps. Accreditors review faculty qualifications and the ratio of faculty to students to assure that students have appropriate and adequate mentoring.

Clinical placement site availability is another factor that limits enrollments. Most programs require students to be mentored in a community setting by practicing professionals. The clinical placements provide students with the realities of clinical practice. The community agencies and organizations that open their doors to our students are limited. Student placements take employee time, and reimbursements for clinical practice are based on production that is impacted when a student takes mentoring time from a clinician. We also compete with other programs both within and outside of the state for clinical placement sites. Some of our program caps are based solely on the limited community placements sites available.

Filling a Need

A final issue that limits the number of graduates we accept is the employment market. While interest in a profession may be high in a particular profession, we are careful not to graduate more students than can be absorbed by the job market. We want our graduates to get the jobs they seek; hence, we attempt to avoid “glutting” the pool of entry-level job seekers.

Another source of concern about the health profession programs at ISU may be cost. In addition to tuition, students admitted to health professional programs are charged additional professional fees. Why? The answer to that question is quite straightforward: The nature of the training that goes into students graduating from our accredited programs is costly. While ISU is a state institution into which general fund tax dollars and university tuition dollars flow, only 49 percent of the budget in ISU’s Division of Health Sciences comes from these sources. The remainder of the costs is covered by clinic income, grant and contract income and professional fees students pay. The bottom line is that ISU’s high-demand programs are also high cost.

The future of the health professions and health sciences at ISU is bright. We continue to grow in response to student demand and market need. Ten of our Pocatello-based programs are offered at our Meridian campus, and we have online graduate degrees that serve the nation and the world. ISU is truly a destination site for the health professions. For those of you unfamiliar with our program offerings, visit www.isu.edu/healthsciences.

Linda Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D., is vice provost and executive dean of the Idaho State University Division of Health Sciences.