Blue Heron Senior Living


Saint Leo’s nursing program receives funding to grow experiential learning.

Confronting the world’s challenges through service to others is a key part of Saint Leo University’s mission. Now, as Florida and the Tampa area face a grave shortage of nurses, Saint Leo is set to meet the health care needs of the community through its Bachelor of Science in nursing program.

In Fall 2023, students will begin their junior year in the core nursing program classes. By the end of its first five years of operation, Saint Leo’s program is expected to add nearly 200 nurses to the workforce.

Not only did the university recognize the need for nurses when it launched the bachelor’s degree in 2021, but so did the Florida Legislature, Governor Ron DeSantis, area health care and government leaders, and several generous donors. They have provided additional funds to build the program and create learning spaces for the future health professionals.

The state of Florida’s 2023-2024 budget includes an appropriation that will provide the university with $740,000 next year to develop the program and address the critical nursing shortage. More than $500,000 has been raised from private donations, bringing the total raised for the nursing program to $1.2 million.

Rendering of the Nursing Clinical Skills Lab
Funds from the state of Florida and private donors will be used in part to build an experiential learning space on the second floor of Benedictine Hall. Architectural renderings show how the space will provide classrooms and simulated learning areas.

“The graduates from the Saint Leo nursing program will directly impact population health in the state by providing safe, compassionate care all while utilizing best practices and current innovations,” wrote Dr. Robin McGuinness, senior executive officer/chief nurse executive for AdventHealth’s West Florida Division, in a letter of support. In the Spring 2024 Semester, nursing students will partner with AdventHealth Zephyrhills.

With the rapid growth of Pasco County, FL, where University Campus is located, Pasco Economic Development Council President/CEO Bill Cronin noted, “In one of our greatest areas of need — health care — it is especially clear that we need our education partners to step up and produce the talent needed for our hospitals and other health care providers to thrive.”

Group photo of the university’s inaugural class of juniors pursuing bachelor’s degrees in nursing this fall.
Nursing Program Chair Dr. Deb Peterson, pictured in the front row on the right, led an orientation for the university’s inaugural class of juniors pursuing bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

Students entering Saint Leo’s program must have a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher. Then, in order to be accepted into the junior nursing degree major for Fall 2023, they had to complete their first two years of liberal arts courses as well as the nursing requirements, including sciences and math. In Spring Semester 2023, they had to have a minimum 3.3 GPA in college courses and pass the standardized ATI Test of Essential Academic Skills to apply to become official nursing majors, said Dr. Deb Peterson, chair of the Department of Nursing.

“Finally, they get to take their first nursing course, beginning to examine the culture of health, what is a nurse, what does a nurse do, and how to begin to use clinical judgment to safely and effectively care for people,” Peterson said. “There are four themes embedded in all courses: evidence-based practice, interprofessional communication, culture of health, and clinician well-being.”

Rendering of the Nursing Simulator
This architectural rendering shows a simulated learning area.

For students and faculty, the exciting part begins in the fall with hands-on learning. “That’s what the students are waiting for,” Peterson said. “The juniors will begin learning in the skills and simulation labs and will go to a clinical setting.” This will include Blue Heron Senior Living in nearby Wesley Chapel, FL.

In the fall, the nursing program will use space in the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library, but it eventually will be housed on the second floor of Benedictine Hall. There, Saint Leo will provide a fully renovated nursing floor where students will encounter real-life scenarios in labs, classrooms, and simulated-learning areas.

John Picciano, a Saint Leo University trustee and member of the Class of 1969, recently donated $127,735 to the university’s Bachelor of Science in nursing program and to help with construction during the university’s annual giving day to bring total dollars raised from $372,265 to $500,000.

“Nursing changes the lives of others, and I hope others will support Saint Leo’s program, help it to grow, innovate, and graduate caring and competent nurses,” said Picciano, CEO of Oglethorpe Inc.

Support Saint Leo’s Nursing Program

More support is needed to grow the university’s bachelor’s degree program in nursing. Donations may be made by selecting Nursing Excellence Fund at your.saintleo.edu/give.