As in many states across the country, Nebraska is facing a critical shortage of nurses. And relief doesn't look promising for the short term. The nursing workforce is aging, as is our nursing faculty, creating the perfect storm for a workforce crisis that will demand a swift and creative response.
Finding a Creative Solution
Attracting nurses to rural communities can be especially challenging. Students often leave home for college and don't return. Located in Grand Island, Neb., a rural community of 50,000 people, CHI Health St. Francis has created an innovative solution to address the nursing shortage.
St. Francis, which is part of Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, is a 159-bed community hospital. Traditional recruitment incentives, including increasing the RN starting hourly wage by $2.50, compensating advanced education, and offering hiring bonuses, recruitment bonuses and loan forgiveness, have failed to create an ample supply of nurses. In response, our nursing leadership team decided to grow our own nurses. We believed that strengthening our relationships with high schools and creating awareness about nursing as a career would keep students in our community after graduation. This program, which we called "Growing our Own," created a three-way partnership among our largest local high school, our community college and St. Francis.
Every Partner Benefits
Five high school students from Grand Island Senior High were selected to participate in a pilot program in which CHI Health St. Francis agreed to pay tuition and fees for these students to earn an associate degree in nursing at Grand Island's Central Community College (CCC). Additional costs for the ADN program are covered through funding donated by the hospital's foundation. In exchange for paying their college expenses, our students signed contracts stating that they would work at the hospital for a minimum of 3 years after graduation. Their parents also signed.
CCC has committed five guaranteed seats in its nursing program for our students after high school graduations. To support the college, nurses employed at the hospital work as adjunct faculty, providing clinical supervision for ADN students.
Students selected for our partnership are required to participate in a medical pathway, part of Grand Island's high school Career Pathway Institute. During their junior and senior year of high school, students will complete five college-level courses. These pre-nursing classes will prepare students to enroll in the nursing program immediately after graduating from high school.
Beginning their senior year in high school, each student will be assigned a nurse mentor from the hospital. These nurses will provide ongoing support throughout the student's college journey. Students will be encouraged to work as nursing assistants at the hospital when they begin the ADN program. This will assist them in developing relationships, enhance their learning, provide a wage, and expose them to multiple nursing roles.
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Additional Community Benefits
A secondary goal was to cultivate diversity and provide support for a growing Hispanic population in Grand Island. Of the students selected, three are Hispanic, one is Native American and one is Laotian. Through this partnership, several students will be first-generation college students.
As a result of our partnership, we believe we have created a mechanism for attracting high school students to a career in nursing that will keep them in our community to live and work. In the future, an enhanced presence in our middle schools will plant the seed at an earlier age, which may present an opportunity to grow more nursing students. n
Beth Bartlett is vice president for patient care services at CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island, Neb.