WILLMAR -- The future of nursing education in Minnesota will involve a deepening level of cooperation between academia and local communities, University of Minnesota officials told a local audience Monday.

"Our whole agenda is that we're available for partnerships and leveraging the resources of this state. It takes every one of our programs working together to even begin to address the issues ahead of us," said Connie Delaney, dean and professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.

Delaney and Barbara Brandt, assistant vice president for education at the university's Academic Health Center, met Monday with about two dozen local nurse leaders to talk about the direction of the nursing profession and how future nurses are trained.

The two have been traveling around the state this summer to hear about local needs and opportunities for cooperative projects.

Nurses play an increasingly important role on the health care team, Delaney said. They are key, for instance, in helping patients manage the day-to-day issues of living with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure.

In rural areas, where primary care doctors are in short supply, advanced-practice nurses can effectively bridge the gap in providing patient care.