By Les Neuhaus | Contributing Writer
To follow Robert Wolf around on an average weekday morning as he shakes the hands of staff and says hello to every student in the hallway is to witness a man on something of a mission.
Wolf has been president of the St. Petersburg campus of Galen College of Nursing for three-and-a-half years, during which time enrollment has doubled. Wolf makes a point to see all the students personally at the beginning of each school year. He encourages them to embrace the rigorous course load ahead.
“We've managed to bring the student body from around 680 to about 1,235,” Wolf says. “I've been able to dramatically change the culture here — I think of myself as a culture changer. The students are my primary concern, they are my driver.”
Wolf spent nearly 30 years in senior administration roles at Hillsborough Community College before being named to the top post at Galen in October 2013. It was at HCC, he says, where he learned the value of tearing down the walls between officials and students.
That's why he spends a chunk of his time on campus on walkabouts, chatting with future nurses. He recently walked up to a small pod of five six students, for example, and asked them what they knew, or wanted to know, about the pending campus expansion. “I asked them what we are missing,” says Wolf, “and what can we do better.”
The school has been growing. Annual revenues at the campus, on Roosevelt Boulevard, increased 15% last year, from $13 million in 2015 to
$15 million in 2016. The increased student enrollment also means more staff, including professors from respected backgrounds, and better equipment with which to train. The campus has about 100 employees.
Galen educates its students to be practical nurses (PN), licensed practical nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN). The school also offers bachelor's degrees in science nursing. The school has five campuses nationwide, with a headquarters in Louisville, Ky.
And with job security a near-guarantee as the baby boomer generation continues retiring in the years ahead, more nurses will be needed in the workforce. Because of that, Wolf predicts Galen's enrollment at the Tampa Bay campus will grow to 1,500 students in another three years.
But getting to the gradation stage isn't cheap. Wolf says students studying to be an RN, for example, pay about $60,000 in overall tuition during their education at Galen. When students graduate and pass their certification qualifying them as RNs, in Florida they will likely make somewhere between $25 and $28 an hour, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Katie Rogan, a student taking the LPN bridge to RN program at Galen, admits the cost of the school is high. But she looks at it like an investment and that it is worth it because the quality of Galen's staff is excellent. Additionally, she says, the quality of the staff correlates with how prepared the students are for the workforce when they graduate.
“The cost going to Galen is high,” Rogan, 28 and from Luckey, Ohio, says. “But I've heard of other colleges where students are unable to pass their NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). This happens less often with Galen graduates. That alone makes the cost worth it.”
Wolf backs up the NCLEX claim made by Rogan. At the LPN level, he says, the school has a 100% pass rate for the state board certifications. At the RN level, the rates are consistently 90% or better. Both stats are proof of the quality education the students receive, Wolf adds.
The school does more than hand out degrees and say good luck.
Wolf has been developing relationships with hospitals throughout the Tampa Bay area since he got to town. He's reached agreements for “preferred educational partnerships” with 52 hospitals and health care facilities so far.
Kyle Thrift, chief nursing officer at Brandon Regional Hospital, says his facility began a partnership with Galen last fall. Galen students have opportunities to complete all their required clinical rotations at the 438-bed hospital.
“This allows them to familiarize themselves with the hospital, our team members/culture, and our policies, which makes the transition from the classroom to the bedside more seamless,” Thrift says. “We chose Galen College of Nursing because their mission, values and goals are closely aligned with those of our hospital.”
Adds Thrift: “Our hospital leaders consistently identified the Galen students as clinically sound and patient-centered. Since entering into this partnership, we have hired many of their students while (they were) still in school, and helped place them in an RN position upon graduation.”
'A true community'
Galen also has forged a niche in continuing education for nurses.
The school, for instance, offers Brandon and other hospital RNs a discounted tuition rate and flexible scheduling to make it easier to go from an RN to a degree in science nursing.
Amanda Engwall, 29, finished her LPN in 2014 and went straight into the RN program, and now works full time at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg. She's enrolled again at Galen now, working on her BSN. She says what drew her to Galen was the atmosphere. A friend attending Galen told her about it, and within a week Engwall was enrolled.
“When I toured the campus and saw the technology, classrooms, and staff, I immediately realized this was finally where I'd find my career,” she says. “Over the last three years I definitely saw the student body grow. Just recently is the first time I had heard of a wait list for Galen.”
Another perk to a Galen degree: Engwall says that within the Tampa Bay community, she's noticed people know of Galen — whether they are connected to nursing or not.
“And it seems like everyone wants to hire Galen nurses,” she says. “The experience is hard to compare to other schools, but I'd say for nursing, it would seem impossible that the education could get much better.”
The growth is noticeable across the campus. Crystal Sutherland, 34 and a mother of five, was enrolled at Galen in 2008-2009. But she was forced to take a break due to family issues, she says. “When I came back last September, I was shocked at how much the campus had grown,” Sutherland says. “Galen is truly a community, no doubt.”
Sutherland, who is in the RN bridge to BSN program, says the academic challenges are myriad at Galen. “They don't teach you to be a basic RN — they teach you to be the best RN possible,” Sutherland says. “They make you think even further than what is expected as an RN. ... It's great to see our student body help pull each other through the toughest concepts by putting differences aside and teaching each other.”
Comments like that, says Wolf, help define the college's mission. “I want us to get better and better,” he says. “I want us to morph into something that's even greater than what we are now.”
AT A GLANCE
History: Health insurance giant Humana launched the school in 1989 to combat an acute national nursing shortage. College became an independent educational system in 1994, when the Human hospital system was dissolved. Official became Galen College of Nursing in 2005, when it added an associate's degree in nursing at the Florida and Kentucky campuses.
Campuses: Cincinnati, Hazard, Ky., Louisville, San Antonio and St. Petersburg
Graduates: More than 11,000 since 1989
Source: Galen College