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Nursing students find jobs

Rob Amen
| Monday, June 21, 2004

Forty-five students graduated from the Citizens School of Nursing in New Kensington on Wednesday. Most, if not all, have already been hired by a medical facility.

To say the job market is slow is to overlook the scores of students graduating with nursing degrees or from nursing schools who are taking the steps to fill a nursing demand that has stricken much of the country during the past several years.

"Every (student) who wanted one and actively looked has a job," said Lynne Rugh, director of Citizens School. "It's a good time to be a nurse."

According to the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, the 2003 nursing vacancy rate in Pennsylvania was 8.6 percent. In western Pennsylvania, that figure was 7.2 percent. That is down slightly from 2002.

But Sue Flaherty, the council's career development specialist for the center for health careers, said that the state could face a 14 percent vacancy rate in 2010 and a 30 percent rate in 2020.

That is because the state's 149 nursing programs cannot find enough educators to fill the demand of the number of the students enrolling.

"The classes are full," said Pat Jurczak, vice president of the hospital council. "Every program is limited in how many students they will accept right now. One of our problems years ago was filling the classrooms. Now that's not a problem."

"One thing we need to do," Flaherty added, "is find more nursing educators."

According to a national survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by 16.6 percent in the fall of 2003 compared to the previous year. That marked the third consecutive year enrollment increased.

About 1 percent, or 11,000 qualified students, were turned away from programs because of limited faculty, clinical sites and classroom space.

Figures for UPMC St. Margaret's School of Nursing and School of Practical Nursing were unavailable, but Citizens School's enrollment has increased dramatically during the past few years. Rugh said 11 students graduated last year compared to 45 this year, and another class of 45 is expected next year. Enrollment in the current incoming class already has exceeded 60, the maximum Citizens School can accommodate.

"That's an issue everywhere. You can only hold so many students," Rugh said. "So many people who are working are nearing retirement age. As the baby boomers retire, there are going to be a lot of openings. We can't turn them out fast enough. Many schools across the country are turning away qualified students because they don't have enough faculty and clinical spots."

If students are accepted into nursing programs and complete their education, they're finding jobs.

More than half of Citizens School's graduating students have been hired by the West Penn Allegheny Health System, of which the Alle-Kiski Medical Center is a member. AKMC, which runs the nursing school, will employ 15 of the graduates.

AKMC and UPMC St. Margaret are the only hospitals in the Alle-Kiski Valley that administer schools of nursing. Armstrong County Memorial and Butler Memorial hospitals work closely with Butler County Community College, which has a nursing and allied health program. It is not uncommon for the hospitals to hire its graduates.

Students finishing four-year degree programs at colleges or earning diplomas through 12- to -20-month programs from institutes such as Citizens School enter hospitals as GNs, or graduate nurses. They typically shadow RNs, or registered nurses, and fulfill classroom education at the hospitals until they pass the state license exam to become an RN.

"Bachelor-prepared nurses get a lot more theory; diploma nurses get a lot more hands-on (experience)," said Rodney Priester, a staff educator at Armstrong County Memorial. "It all evens out. A couple years out of nursing school, you probably aren't going to be able to tell the difference."

Susan Hoolahan, vice president of patient care services at UPMC St. Margaret, said the hospital has hired 65 nurses since January. The majority were graduate nurses, and most of them came from St. Margaret's schools.

"We encourage them to work on the weekends and some evenings as nursing assistants," Hoolahan said. "We have a lot of social activities that the unit managers participate in with the students to try to foster relationships. We do everything we can to try to hire anybody who graduates from the school."

The nationwide nursing shortage is so worrisome that UPMC has developed a program that calls for hospital personnel to enter elementary schools and introduce students to the profession.

"More than 700,000 kids (including several thousand by St. Margaret) have been introduced over the last year throughout the health system," Hoolahan said. "If we don't do that, we are very concerned we won't have enough people to take care of us in future years." Additional Information:

Nursing shortage

Percent of nursing vacancies in 2003, according to Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania: 8.6 percent.

Western Pennsylvania: 7.2 percent.

Projected vacancies:

2010: 14 percent.

2020: 30 percent.

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