Hospitals using scholarships to reverse nursing shortage

Hospitals using scholarships to reverse nursing shortage

Archer, Rick

Facing a nationwide shortage of registered nurses, WNW Plains Hospital Center is hoping that a 3-year-old scholarship program turns out to be a worthy investment in its own future ire and the future of the nursing profession.

The hospital is not alone in needing to take extra measures to find nurses amid a shortage that experts are saying won’t end anytime soon.

That has ranged from outreach programs to encourage schoolchildren to enter the field to White Plains’ scholarship program, which offers up to $10,000 to nursing students in the form of a promissory note. After graduation, the note is written off if the student spends at least one year per $5,000 received working at the hospital.

The beneficiaries of the program are just starting work at the hospital, said Cindy Ganung, the hospitals nursing recruiter “Sixteen or so are going to graduate in the spring.” The hospital has spent about $352,000 on the program so far, with some of the money coming from a federal grant.

The idea is to establish a relationship with student nurses in an increasing competitive job market, she said.

The hospital is not alone. Around the region, a number of hospitals and nursing homes are offering similar programs. Debra Schulkamp, assistant dean of the Lienhard School of Nursing at Pace University, said there are a number of hospitals offering similar programs, but they are finding relatively few takers among students who already know the job market favors them. “The students know they can go wherever they want,” she said.

Of course, this is not the hospital’s only recruiting effort. The hospital is also recruiting at nursing schools around New York state and Connecticut, offering internships and doing outreach programs in county schools, Ganung said. “We’re tying to do programs at the high school and the middle school level.”

Some hospitals are seeing elementary school field trips as a way to get children started on the path to a health-care career, said Arthur Weintraub, president of the Northern Metropolitan Hospital Association.

Westchester Medical Center has what senior vice president for patient-care services Lauren Johnston said are fairly typical recruiting practices; sending representatives to colleges and career fairs and encouraging student nurses to do their required internships at the hospital.

These three-month summer internships, called practicum, are among the hospital’s most valuable recruiting tools, allowing perspective nurses to evaluate it as a workplace, she said.

The hospital’s position as a regional health-care center has made recruiting easier, she said. “The hospital sells itself, especially the children’s hospital.”

Still, finding enough nurses remains a difficult job, she said. “It’s very competitive.”

For years, nursing was a job that involved hard work for relatively low pay, Weintraub said. “In the past, the field has attracted primarily women and the in the last 10, 15 years or more women have assumed more roles,” he said.

As a result, there was a shortage of people interested in nursing just as the moment when the aging baby boom generation began hitting the health-care system in force, driving up the demand for health professionals of all kinds, he said.

The lack of younger people choosing nursing as a career has also meant an increasing number of nurses approaching or reaching retirement age. “The average age for nurses in the state is 46 or 47,” Johnston said.

Currently, three out of four hospital vacancies nationwide are for registered nurses, Schulkamp said. The Journal of the American Medical Association is predicting 213,000 more openings than nurses nationwide in 2010, 434,000 in 2020. In New York state, the Department of Labor is predicting 3,360 openings for registered nurses a year through 2010.

That demand has gone a ways toward resolving the pay issue and publicity about the demand for nurses is now causing increasing number of young people to consider the career, Weintraub said.

In addition, there are now increasing numbers of people considering nursing as a second career, Schulkamp said.

Now, though, a new bottleneck has developed: a lack of nursing teachers. In previous decades, nursing schools responded to shrinking student bodies with faculty cutbacks, Schulkamp said. Now that applications are on the rise again, there is a lack of experienced nurses to serve as teachers, she said. “Thirty-two thousand students were turned away nationwide because of the faculty shortage,” she, said.

Johnston said Westchester Medical Center encourages its staff to teach at nursing schools. In addition to increasing the supply of nurses in general, the personal ties formed help recruiting, she said.

However, increasing the faculty of nursing schools will not be enough to fix the problem, Weintraub said. The medical demands of the aging baby boomers will continue to outstrip the supply of nurses for the foreseeable future, he said.

One of the beneficiaries of these recruiting efforts was Jennifer Wright, who has been a registered nurse with White Plains Hospital Center for a year and a half.

Wright, a native of the Bronx, was an accounting major at SUNY Binghamton when she decided to look into other careers. “I didn’t want to work with numbers the rest of my life,” she said.

I just wanted to help people.”

She said she came to White Plains her senior year for her practicum and liked what she saw While she was there, she applied for and was accepted in the scholarship program, receiving $5,000 for her final year in school. “It basically paid for all my books my last semester,” she said. “I didn’t have to work, I could just, concentrate on my assignments.”

Copyright Westfair Communications Mar 21, 2005

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