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 Healthcare Industry Helps Attract Nursing Students 

By Mike Larose
Community College Times
September 3, 2002
Some hospitals, desperate for trained nurses, are hiring nursing students and paying them to go to school.

At St. Petersburg College in Florida nursing students may participate in the Earn as You Learn program, which pays tuition and provides a stipend while the students complete an associate degree in nursing. They are required to work an eight-hour shift every week at the sponsoring hospital and to commit to working there after graduation, usually for at least one year.

Earn as You Learn, initiated last year, has been successful in attracting nursing students, said Jean Wortock, dean of the College of Nursing at St. Petersburg.

“They’re (hospitals) making a significant financial contribution to these students. And it gives the opportunity for hands-on learning,” Wortock said. “It’s a real attraction, it really brings them in.”

St. Petersburg graduates about 200 ADNs a year and has a waiting list, said Wortock. In its first year, Earn as You learn had about 24 participants, and college officials expect more to sign on this year.

There is a nationwide deficit of 126,000 nurses, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA). Hospitals and colleges around the country are working together to find ways to address a shortage of trained nurses that has been called a crisis. Community-based partnerships seem to have taken the lead in attracting and training more students to the field.

“A lot of this is just community collaboration,” said Amy Lee, an AHA spokeswoman. “It’s just hospitals and communities realizing the need and getting together to do something about it.” Examples of that kind of collaboration are evident at community colleges with nursing programs across the country.

In Santa Ana, Calif., a hospital and community college joined forces to create a nursing program that began this month. The college has had a waiting list of prospective nursing students, while the hospital has had a demand for more trained nurses. California expects a statewide nurse vacancy of 25,000 within four years.

Working with St. Joseph Hospital, Santa Ana College will train 20 additional nursing students per semester, bringing their total possible number of nursing students to 56 per semester. By the third year of the new program, the goal is to accept 40 additional students.

With the new partnership, evening and weekend classes will be offered in a 21–week semester format. The classes will be held at St. Joseph in existing classroom space and a computer and nursing skills laboratory funded by the hospital. St. Joseph also will underwrite one faculty position for the program. The college will contribute instructional supplies and videos.

“We intend to boost the nursing program by 55 percent in an effort to meet the challenging workplace needs of our society,” said Mary Crook, director of nursing and health sciences at Santa Ana College. “Together, Santa Ana College and St. Joseph Hospital will continue to deliver superior education and healthcare for Orange County.”

Advertising is another tool now being used to attract students to healthcare programs. A program launched in June at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo., is promoting health professions with TV commercials and other media advertising in hopes of attracting more nursing students. Three hospitals have each chipped in $10,000 to pay for the “Technology Today” advertising program.

“The program was designed with tight budgets,” said Cindy Hinds, director of public relations at Ozarks. “We were looking for a way to tell the community the story of the healthcare programs we have and that we are always looking for enrollment.”

The story of the healthcare program, said Hinds, is that its graduates are getting jobs, many at local hospitals. Hospitals are willing to pay for the ad campaign because in addition to attracting students who could become employees, it gives them exposure.

The ads are aimed at the 18- to 24-age group, using radio, cable TV and cinema ads at movie theaters in Springfield and Branson, a neighboring town. Hinds said they are tracking enrollment to figure out if the program is working but don’t have any indication yet.

Once students graduate from a nursing program, finding employment is not a problem. And, hospitals compete for applicants by offering good pay and signing bonuses. Wortock said the starting salary in the St. Petersburg area ranges from $17-30 per hour, depending on the hospital and the benefits offered.

According to a study commissioned by the AHA, 41 percent of U.S. hospitals surveyed offered signing bonuses to nurses last year. The majority of those bonuses fell in the $1,000-$5,000 range, though some were as high as $10,000 or $15,000.
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