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Former dean of OSU College of Nursing focused on fixing stressful conditions

Nurse Camille Dickey enters the room of a COVID-19 patient.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB
Nurse Camille Dickey enters the room of a COVID-19 patient.

Former dean of The Ohio State University College of Nursing, Bernadette Melynk, wants more focus on fixing stressful conditions that cause burnout, depression and a shrinking number of nurses.

Melnyk started her new full-time role July 1 as OSU’s Vice President for Health Promotion and Chief Wellness Officer. She says the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still felt by the nursing staff.

“It changed nursing incredibly,” says Melnyk. “People are really suffering from burnout and compassion fatigue. And short staffing was rampant across the country due to increased volume of COVID 19 patients.”

Melnyk says her role is focused on improving the population, health and well-being for faculty, clinicians, staff and students all throughout Ohio State.

“We need the C-suite to really focus all across the country on fixing system issues that we know cause burnout, depression and turnover,” says Melnyk. “But they also have to create wellness cultures where our staff can thrive.”

Melnyk, who led the OSU College of Nursing for 12 years, says system issues include short staffing, work overload and problems with the electronic medical records that can consume time better spent with patients.

She adds the shortage of nurses varies at Ohio State between 10 to 20%. The university has had to hire traveling nurses to fill spots for patient care.

Ohio State’s online curriculum was already established in 2020 when the pandemic struck, and Melnyk says it made for a smoother transition.

“That helped us to transition very quickly with all of our students, so we didn't miss a beat,” says Melnyk. “We also developed a Tele-Support line for our nurses on the front lines to help them get through this very stressful time.”

Under Melnyk’s leadership, the university more than doubled its nursing students while faculty and staff have more than tripled.

“When I came to Ohio State, we had about 1,100 students and 130 faculty and staff,” says Melnyk. “We now have about 2,300 students and 350 faculty and staff. It was one of my strategic initiatives to really increase enrollment.”

Melnyk explains that through a partnership with the OSU Wexner Medical Center, the university is creating an accelerated bachelor's program for non-nurses who will be educated and receive a nursing degree in about 18 months.

Melnyk also says OSU has also developed a Doctor of Nursing Education program, which is the first in the country, to fill a shortage of faculty who are well-skilled to teach future nurses. The program launched during the last academic year.

Melnyk says despite all the increased efforts she expects the nursing shortage crisis will remain for “quite some time.”

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.