Southeastern program combating nursing shortage
Contact: Rene Abadie
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North Oaks Health System staff nurse Anna Price explains the ICU monitoring system to Southeastern Louisiana University nursing students. From left, standing are senior Sarah Bates of Denham Springs, senior Sarah Rich of Tickfaw and, seated, junior Brittany Horning of Franklinton.
HAMMOND -- A leading researcher recently compared America’s growing nursing shortage to a developing storm that will strike the nation “like a Category Three Hurricane.”
It is an analogy that the average American might not fully grasp but one that people in Louisiana understand all too well. A major nursing producer, Southeastern Louisiana University, is implementing strategies to combat this issue.
According to Peter Buerhaus, a leading nursing work force analyst from Vanderbilt University, and his colleagues, there could be as many as 500,000 vacant nursing positions nationwide by 2025. This severe shortage could “incapacitate the health care system,” leading to “more infections, falls, cardiac arrests and medication errors,” Buerhaus said.
Their report, published in “Nursing Economic$, The Journal for Health Care Leaders,” and presented in May to the National Press Club in Washington, pinned the anticipated shortage on an aging nursing work force and an exploding demand for health care as 78 million baby boomers reach age 65.
Although there are no available studies that identify the extent of the anticipated shortage in Louisiana, health care and education leaders are preparing for the worst. The University of Louisiana System Board, presidents, and eight universities, of which Southeastern is a part, have pledged to produce an additional 2,400 new graduates per year by 2012 in high-demand areas, including health care.
Southeastern, the fifth largest nursing producer in the United States, is working with state nursing and education leaders to recruit more students into the profession, give them a high quality education that is grounded in the realities of the work place, graduate more nurses quickly and help keep them on the job.
In the fall, Southeastern will begin enrolling students under a new program that allows graduates of associate degree and diploma nursing programs to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in as little as a year if prerequisites have been met. In addition to this CALL — Continuum for All Louisiana Learners — program, Southeastern developed a similar accelerated track program for students seeking a second bachelor’s degree. It allows students to obtain a degree in nursing in as little as 18 months.
Additional state funding allows Southeastern and other universities to enroll more nursing students to address the shortage. This has helped Southeastern graduate over 40 additional nursing students per year — an increase of more than 45 percent over the past four years — and the state to increase nursing graduates by about 36 percent over the last six years, according to Southeastern School of Nursing Director Barbara Moffett.
“We’re seeing a great response to our recruitment efforts. I think we’re all doing our part to keep the workforce in place. The challenge is retention,” she said. “That’s where working with nursing leaders statewide and hospitals in the region is essential.”
One way Southeastern is responding is by giving nursing students hands-on work experiences with one of its approximately 100 health agency partners — both in Hammond and in the surrounding area.
“We’re even working on the front end — at admission — to make students aware of what the field is really like, so they won’t be disappointed when they find out it’s different from what they see on TV,” Moffett said.
Southeastern also is working with hospital administrators and other health care leaders to survey nursing graduates and address the issues that coax nurses out of the profession.
“We want to find out what they like about their jobs or what it would take to satisfy them. In some cases, it’s more flexible working hours. In others, it’s giving nurses a greater say in the operation of their facility,” Moffett said. “Once we know what the issues are, we are better equipped to address them.”
Moffett said the need for nurses is particularly acute in hospitals. “Nurses are more mobile than they were in years past, and they have more choices. Some in this generation of students, who are coming into the program and graduating now, have their careers mapped out. They might start out at a hospital but often see their career as taking them to become nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists or into private practice, so their time in an acute care facility is limited. We want to help address that.”
One of Southeastern’s primary and longstanding partners is North Oaks Health System, the largest community-based hospital organization on the north shore and second largest employer in Tangipahoa Parish. North Oaks serves as a clinical site for Southeastern’s School of Nursing and other health studies programs. The health system also subsidizes students’ educations through a stipend program that pays students for every semester they spend at Southeastern, in exchange for working at the hospital after graduation.
Hospital officials agree with Moffett’s assessment. “The transition from nursing student to registered nurse can be challenging. That’s why we set the expectation that each staff member is counted upon to mentor, support and assist our new nurses with their entry into practice. Our new nurses are our future, so we put special resources into providing them with an outstanding orientation to professional nursing,” said North Oaks Senior Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer Paula Hymel, RN. “Our senior staff are key to these processes. They lend their expertise, skill and personal knowledge in the art of nursing. From there, a collaborative relationship develops between the staff, and excellence in nursing is the result.”
North Oaks and Southeastern are taking the same collaborative approach to assessing and addressing health care worker needs on the north shore. In March, health system and university officials formalized a cooperative endeavor agreement that calls for North Oaks to provide facilities and services to the university to assist in increasing the number of students in its health care education programs.
“Increasing the number of students creates a larger pool of available candidates to ensure our ability to meet the north shore region’s current and future health care needs,” said North Oaks Senior Vice President of Human Resources Carolyn Adema.
Through the cooperative endeavor agreement, North Oaks officials will make available to Southeastern an interactive auditorium-style classroom they are constructing as part of a $250 million expansion to meet the health system’s own community and employee educational needs. The $1.7 million community investment is scheduled for completion by year’s end on the main hospital campus in Hammond.
“Not only will the new classroom provide a north shore location for courses to be taught, but also it will be a place for clinical instructors to simulate the patient care environment to ensure nursing skill and competency,” added North Oaks Vice President of Human Resources Jeff Jarreau.
“Another benefit to the North Oaks partnership is that Southeastern can offer students opportunities that allow them to stay on the north shore for some of the classes that have traditionally only been offered in Baton Rouge, which is often a tough commute for these students,” Moffett said.
It also makes it easier for adult students — many who work and have families — to get their nursing degree and enter the ranks.