A high demand for nurses and an increasing need for a higher level of education has led local colleges, universities, and employers across Mid-Michigan to partner together – addressing the nursing shortage and preparing students for a successful future in the workforce.
With the large population of baby boomers aging and in need of medical care – especially for chronic illnesses – the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the job outlook for nursing will grow “much faster than the average for all occupations” through 2026.
Students in Saginaw Valley State University’s nursing program practice hands-on skills in a lab setting.
Additionally, many hospitals are making a push for their nurses to have a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) rather than an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).
“Studies have shown ... outcomes are better when patients are cared for by nurses who have a Bachelor’s Degree,” says Kechi Iheduru-Anderson, Nursing Program Director at Central Michigan University.
As the saying goes, though, completing a BSN is sometimes easier said than done – especially for nurses already working under an associate’s degree.
This is one reason Central Michigan University added a new program that started this semester, which allows working nurses to return to school and complete their bachelor’s degree in as little as 12 months. What really makes this program attainable, though? It’s completely online for students to take at their own pace.
“We have in mind that these students when they return to school have several commitments,” says Iheduru-Anderson. “Most of them work full time – work more than full time. They have families. So, depending on their commitments, they can finish in less than 12 months, 18 months, or in 3 years.”
To further encourage nurses to pursue a bachelor’s degree, many community colleges are partnering with 4-year programs to create articulation agreements that pave the way for an easy transfer of credits and continuation of education. While these articulation agreements are nothing new, they are becoming more and more common – such as the new articulation agreement between Delta College and CMU.
Like many community colleges, Delta College’s nursing program has articulation agreements with 4-year programs to help encourage nurses to continue their education.
Emily Clement, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Delta College, says the online aspect of CMU’s program is certainly beneficial for her students, who are often hired upon completion of their ADN program and need a flexible school schedule to complete classes.
“Nurses work some weird shifts; so, it makes it really nice because a lot of employers are asking for them to get their Bachelor’s Degree within a certain time,” Clement explains.
One of those employers is McLaren.
“It’s becoming the standard of care for nurses to have that bachelor’s degree – just with the patients we’re seeing,” says Martin Tursky, President and CEO of McLaren Central Michigan.
He added that the hospital – and many other hospitals – has a benefit structure that encourages nurses to continue their education.
“There is a shortage of nurses and anything we can do to provide them a higher level of decision-making abilities … is only going to help them provide a higher level of care,” says Tursky.
Ellen E. Talbott, RN and Vice President Patient Care Services/Chief Nursing Officer for McLaren Bay Region, said education is key for nurses today.
"Having bachelor-prepared nurses is important to providing state-of-the-art nursing care," Talbott said. "Individuals with this level of educational preparation are valued for their skills in critical thinking, evidence-based clinical practice, leadership, disease management, and versatility to practice in any setting."
McLaren Bay is open to partnerships that help nurses earn advanced degrees, Talbott said. "We welcome any opportunity to partner with academic organizations to provide encouragement and flexibility to nurses that will allow them to pursue an advanced degree."
To accommodate the growing number of students who are being encouraged to pursue bachelor’s degrees, in recent years some colleges and universities have made changes to their admittance policies, including Saginaw Valley State University.
“Five years ago, we increased our enrollment from 64 students admitted twice a year to 96 students admitted twice per year,” says Judith Ruland, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services and Director of the Nursing program at SVSU.
She adds that about 450-500 incoming freshman students at the university each year are pursuing an education in nursing. Even if some of those students switch majors – as frequently happens – with that amount of interest, it begs the question of why there is a nursing shortage in the first place.
Five years ago, Saginaw Valley State University’s nursing program increased enrollment from 64 students admitted twice a year to 96 students admitted twice per year.
While the nursing shortage has been predicted for about 15-20 years, says Ruland, we are feeling it more severely now for a number of reasons.
“In 2008, the shortage started to happen,” she explains. “But, because of the recession, women came back to work – women who were working part time or retired – came back to work because their husbands lost their jobs.”
With nurses coming back to the workforce, some predictions showed a different trajectory for states such as Michigan. However, many of those nurses went back to part-time work or left the workforce when they were able to.
Additionally, Ruland adds that not only is the large population of baby boomers needing more care, but they are retiring – and, in that generation, there were a lot of women who became nurses.
Students in Saginaw Valley State University’s nursing program participate in a lab.
Though the nursing shortage may seem dire, with the amount of interest incoming students are showing in a nursing career and local entities working together, there is hope for it to be remedied.
“I think you’re seeing everybody doing something to support increasing the number of qualified nurses that are graduating, that are getting their education, that are available in the workforce,” says Tursky.