Need More Nurses, Stat!

TRAVERSE CITY- Nurses may be in one of the more recession-proof careers, but totally immune to it they are not.

These days, former nurses have returned to work to take the place of unemployed family members. Current nurses are picking up additional shifts to help compensate for financial stresses. And retirement-age nurses are trying to rebuild pensions instead of retiring.

So where does that leave the north's well-publicized nursing shortage that was in place before the economy went south? According to both employers and educators, there are some temporary dips in hiring, but overall the profession is still facing a shortage.

A year ago, nurse hiring at Munson Medical Center went flat, says Bill Brundage, manager of recruitment and employee relations. This compared to the prior year when approximately 150 new nurses joined the staff.

Hiring has started to pick up over the last three months, "but as a new nurse grad, the market is still pretty tight," he says. "Competition is very tough." Right now, there is demand for specialized nurses-in particular, operating room and critical care-though the scarcity of some specialties is not nearly as bad as it was, Brundage adds.

Fast-forward to a "turned-around" economy, and experts warn that, in the future, we'll be staring a nursing shortage in the stethoscope. A recent article in the policy journal Health Affairs predicts the shortage will grow to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025, due in large part to a rapidly aging workforce. Such a shortage, the authors maintain, would be twice as large as any nursing shortage in the U.S. since the mid-1960s.

Anne Barton-Dempsey, Northwestern Michigan College's director of nursing, says its nursing program has the capacity to admit 80 associate degree-seeking students annually and has been filling the program since she joined NMC in June '08.

"Munson hospital has remained one of NMC nurse graduates' employers this year," says Barton-Dempsey. "Home care and hospice nursing is also needed, and while hiring has slowed down, we think it is only temporary."

Despite high administrative costs and less funding from the state, NMC is expanding its nursing program. On top of that, the program itself faces a nurse educator shortage and clinical site limitations, both of which significantly impact how many students the program can accommodate, explains Barton-Dempsey.

School's Not Out

This past January, Munson implemented a requirement that any registered nurse hired after January 1 without a bachelor's degree had to achieve one within 10 years. While there are numerous bachelor of science (BSN) nursing programs available online, both Ferris State University and the University of Michigan have offered RN to BSN programs locally through NMC's University Center for several years. However, U of M recently announced it is ending its RN to BSN program here next year (see sidebar).

Julie Coon, Director of Ferris' School of Nursing, says 14 students started its RN to BSN Traverse City cohort this fall, half of the ideal cohort size of 30.

And although its has launched a Traverse City-based cohort every fall for the last three years, both last year and the year before the program had to be moved entirely online due to students dropping from the seven-semester, site-based program-largely due to a preference for online learning.

A new model, Coon says, may include launching smaller cohorts using a combination of online and face-to-face learning for one semester to acclimate students to a completely online environment.

"FSU really wants a presence in Traverse City. If nursing is an area with a demand, we will fill it," says Coon. BN

EXTRA: U of M leaving University Center

The University of Michigan site-based RN to BSN program offered through NMC's University Center will end effective August 2010. According to Bonnie Hagerty, Assistant Dean, Undergraduate Programs for its School of Nursing, the RN-BSN program will transition to a new graduate entry curriculum (RN-MSN) that is more in line with the school's goals and addresses a shortage of nurses with advanced degrees.

The TCBN's requests for comment about what role economics or declining enrollment played in the decision, if any, went unanswered.

In a letter the school sent to Munson CEO/President Ed Ness notifying him of the decision, the school said it plans to use "multiple teaching-learning methods" to deliver the new RN-MSN program to nurses in "multiple locations." No specific details were given on how that could impact Traverse City area nursing students.

The letter also stated that U of M would examine a possible partnership with Munson for this program over the next several months.