Next to a simulated clinic and hospital unit in UW-Madison's new School of Nursing will be a space not found at most nursing schools: an "apartment."

The mock living area will be wired for the latest in home health technology, such as shoes with computer chips that transmit data about an elderly patient's mobility and stride.

"We'll be able to simulate almost an entire cycle of care," said Katharyn May, dean of the nursing school. "That's critically important as we try to reform how care is given."

Construction on the $52 million building is to begin in May, with groundbreaking events next month. The five-story facility will allow enrollment of nursing students to expand, helping offset a projected shortage of 23,000 nurses in Wisconsin by 2035, May said.

The state doesn't have much of a nursing shortage now. But as the economy picks up and the aging workforce retires, the need is expected to grow quickly, May said.

"The (baby) boomer nurses are going to exit stage left, the boomer patients are going to enter stage right, and there's going to be this big hole," she said.

The building, to be called Signe Skott Cooper Hall, is to open in the fall of 2014 across Highland Avenue from UW Hospital, south of Rennebohm Hall, the pharmacy building. Cooper, an alumnus and former professor at the school, pledged her estate and that of her sister, Hilda, who died in 2000.

Those and other gifts are expected to raise $17.4 million, with about $34 million coming from the state.

Now housed inside UW Hospital and the adjacent Health Sciences Learning Center, the nursing school admits 130 undergraduates a year. It has 50 students in a clinical doctorate program and 29 seeking their Ph.Ds.

In the new building, undergraduate enrollment is expected to grow to 170 to 180 students a year. Plans call for 150 to 175 clinical doctorate students and 65 to 70 getting their Ph.Ds.

Last year, 369 qualified applicants sought the 130 undergraduate spots in Madison and 24 at a satellite program in La Crosse. In other years, more than 400 have applied.

"Without breaking a sweat, we've got the applicant pool to grow," May said.

Finding enough faculty is another matter, she said, given a nationwide shortage of nursing professors.

The nursing school has 17 tenure-track faculty and 28 clinical faculty, for a total of 45. With the expanding enrollment, 60 will be needed, May said.

The university's Madison Inititiave for Undergraduates is paying to hire six clinical faculty, "and we're writing grants like mad" to get money to hire others, May said.

The new building won't just increase the number of nursing students. It will change how they are trained, May said.

The Center for Technology Trained Learning, which will take up most of the second floor, will include the simulated clinic, hospital and home environments. Students will be able to "hand off" care from one place to another and stage mock events such as measles epidemics and nursing home fires.

A large classroom on the first floor will seat up to 360 students in circular tables, with mock electronic medical records on computers. Nursing, medical and pharmacy students will work in teams to solve problems, such as surgery complications and medication errors.

"We've been educating nurses, doctors and pharmacists in silos, then expecting them to play well together when they get out; it's insane," May said. "This is the first step to educating them together."

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