USF administrators, faculty, students, USFSM Campus Board trustees and others celebrate the opening of the USF Health College of Nursing Skills Lab at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

USF Health College of Nursing opens new skills lab at Sarasota-Manatee campus

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: January 16, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 16, 2020) – A capacity crowd welcomed the grand opening on Wednesday of the new USF Health College of Nursing Skills Lab at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus to support its new Accelerated Second Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program.

Designed for students who already have earned a bachelor’s degree, USF’s Accelerated Second Degree major offers a pathway for students to earn a nursing degree through an intensive four-semester, 16-month program. Students beginning in the program in spring 2020 will graduate with a BSN degree in May 2021 and be fully prepared to help meet the documented needs of the region’s health care industry.

“This is just the first step of what is about to come,” Byron Shinn, USF Trustee and chair of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board, told a crowd of well-wishers from the community and USF, including faculty, staff and students, who packed the lab. “This will have a direct impact in so many ways.”

Shinn’s comments came ahead of a ribbon-cutting to officially open the lab – which has been in the planning and construction stages for more than a year – which will provide students with an opportunity to learn and hone their skills in a simulated medical environment. The lab consists of nine beds with specialized mannequins outfitted for training as well as other state-of-the-art technology, including a video conferencing system to communicate with classrooms on other USF campuses.

Harvard Jolly Architecture designed the Nursing Skills Lab; Creative Contractors, LLC, with support from the USFSM Facilities Planning and Management team, completed construction of the project, which began in October.

USF Health expands nursing program to Sarasota-Manatee campus
Victoria Rich, PhD

“This is the best of the best,” Victoria L. Rich, PhD, dean of the College of Nursing from the USF Tampa campus, told the crowd shortly before the ribbon-cutting commenced. “This new nursing skills lab will help prepare the next generation of qualified, skilled nurses to provide care to our growing population.”

Rich collaborated closely with USFSM Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook, PhD, USFSM Dean of the College of Science & Mathematics Paul Kirchman, PhD, and many others to create the lab; the new nursing program will help students as USF works to alleviate the shortage of qualified nurses regionally.

Most students enrolled in the program will complete their clinical rotations at Manatee Memorial Hospital and Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and presumably many of those students will remain in the area once they have earned their degrees and obtained their state-issued nursing licenses.

Also instrumental in creating the lab was the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition – an advocacy organization that also provides scholarships – and Natasha Zurcher, EdD, who oversees the nursing lab and directs the Accelerated Degree Program.

“There is not just a national shortage of nurses but a global shortage of nurses, and that is something that is not unique to Sarasota and Manatee counties. We are growing and therefore we need to have more people to deliver high quality care,” said Zurcher, who thanked the community for welcoming the program.

“I tell many of our students that the hospitals where they will work to complete their clinical rotations are often the first places to offer them a job once they graduate,” she said. “This program will be very impactful, not just to the students but to the community as well.”

“This is going to be an exemplary program,” said Holbrook, who also addressed the crowd. “We have 30 students now and that is just the start.”

USF plans to enroll another cohort of at least 30 students in the spring of 2021.

“I love it. I think it’s just incredible here,” said student Teren Culver, 20, who previously earned a health science degree at USF and commutes from Riverview to attend the program. “I was really impressed at the level of quality, and everything is brand new. It’s really special here.”

Another student, Emily Bowie, 28, who also earned a health science degree, commutes from Tampa. She said she immediately felt welcomed when she arrived at the USFSM campus.

“I know I’ve only been here for three days, but I already feel at home here,” Bowie said. “Everyone here is so nice and the education is top-notch. I’m so glad I came here.”

To learn more about the USF College of Nursing, visit

For more about USF Sarasota-Manatee, visit

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