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A Commitment to Care

Schools work with health providers to combat nursing shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the everyday heroism of nurses, amplifying the critical role they’ve always had on the medical profession’s front lines by helping others to overcome health challenges, whether simple or serious.

That outbreak also put a tremendous amount of stress on an already pressure-packed role, exhausting veterans and creating skyrocketing demand for more nurses just as a population that is growing older is driving the need for long-term care and at-home nursing services.

According to the University of California, San Francisco as many as 1.1 million new nurses are needed nationwide to prevent a shortage, as an aging nursing workforce and the stress associated with that line of work is resulting in burnout and turnover.

“Health care is very rewarding and very challenging. However, we need people,” said Nina Favor, interim nursing program director and director of clinical, lab and simulation in the health and human services division of Lansing Community College. Her program teaches nearly 500 nursing students at a time.

“We need people who are full of integrity. We need people with dignity and compassion. And we also need people who have a sense of humor,” Favor said. “We take care of people who are vulnerable, and they have a lot going on, and they need someone that can get the right training and have the right tools to help them in their time of need.”

The pandemic has both encouraged and discouraged interest in nursing as a career.

“It has done both, actually,” Favor said. “I have seen students say that’s OK; they’re not going to enroll because of COVID, in regard to receiving the vaccination. We’ve also seen students with an increased passion wanting to make sure that they do their part during the pandemic.”

The need for nurses crosses all health care settings and scenarios, said Kim Garza, Davenport University’s associate department chair for nursing in Lansing, where the program has as many as 32 students at a time.

“(Supplementing) our mental health is needed. Our elderly need their care. Our children, everybody needs it,” Garza said. “And then you think about cardiac and diabetes and cancer (care). You can never just focus on one (area). … Every one of them need more nurses.”

A wide range of needs means there is just as wide a range of opportunities in nursing.

“There is so much flexibility in nursing. There are so many opportunities and so many channels. It really does work with a work-life balance, depending on what your goals are for the future,” Favor said. “You can work the weekends only, or you don’t have to work weekends. You can work nights or days. You can travel. You can work on a cruise ship. You can work from home. There are so many benefits.”

Nursing student niches of interest are “a little bit all over the place,” Favor said. “One of the things is traveling nursing,” involving short-term assignments across the country and around the world. “A lot of students are really, really excited about doing that. We have a lot of our students go into ICUs (intensive-care units), and a lot of our advanced students tend to gravitate to the emergency room. So, we’re seeing a little bit of everything after COVID.”

There’s also variety in the types of students at both LCC and Davenport, ranging from traditional admits just out of high school, to health care professionals looking to upgrade their credentials and training, to adults in their 50s and 60s looking for career reinvention.

“We’re looking for people from all segments right now. The reason why we say that is because I believe with the right training, the right environment and the right mindset, people can take care of other people,” Favor said. “We will open our doors to any student that has integrity and dignity and wants to give to their community.”

Both LCC and Davenport have created partnerships with health care organizations regionally to help fill the nursing pipeline. LCC is teaming up with Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital for an “Earn While You Learn” pilot program geared toward nursing students needing to earn money while going to school. According to Favor, students work at Sparrow for 20 hours a week while classes are in session and 40 hours per week during break times.

“The goal is to have students, once they complete our program, work at the hospital,” Favor said. “It’s a win-win to help students pay for their college education and for the hospital to have nurses.”

Davenport partners with many hospitals and community colleges to upskill both potential and existing health care staff and, in turn, solve real-world problems. For instance, Davenport worked with a Grand Rapids hospital to provide the hospital with more surgical nurses for which there was a need, according to Garza. Davenport also offers scholarships to employees at partner health care organizations to help upgrade existing staff.

“We have custom programs we set up with other hospitals to address specific needs. Davenport doesn’t shy away from creating custom opportunities to serve our community,” said Amy Larson Miller, Davenport’s executive director for communications and public relations. “A challenge for them is an opportunity for our students.”

That’s keeping the programs both at LCC and Davenport in a constant state of evolution to ensure they’re addressing tomorrow’s challenges, not yesterday’s.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of society and keep up with that,” said Garza.