Source: The News-Enterprise
It’s been almost two years in the making, but the nation’s largest health care profession just got a little bit bigger in Hardin County.
Thanks to a partnership with Hardin Memorial Health and McKendree University, 10 hospital staffers graduated with their Bachelor of Science degree in nursing last week.
The partnership between the school and hospital was forged to try and help address a nursing shortage, which has affected the landscape of the occupation locally and worldwide.
“There’s about an 18 to 25 percent turnover rate on average nationally,” said Sharon Wright, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at HMH. “Here at Hardin Memorial, we’re at about 7 percent, but we were as high as 13 percent about three years ago.”
To lower that number, HMH announced a partnership program with McKendree in 2014, which provides on-site classes toward a BSN for hospital nursing staff members.
The first group of students, who began taking classes in the fall of 2015, celebrated their final session May 8 in the hospital classroom where they’ve been learning since 2015.
Food and cake were provided to the students in a small celebration before their last bit of instruction.
Myra Covault, chief human resources officer at the hospital, congratulated the participants on their achievement.
“I really do mean it when I say they are trailblazers,” Covault said. “To see them have made that journey over the last year and a half, I feel like a proud parent. I’m just so proud of each and every one of them.”
McKendree instructor Bob VoKanel said the partnership between the school and hospital is beneficial.
“We’ve enjoyed bringing our instruction to the facility,” he said. “It works out well for the students. It’s in their home court and works out well for us. This will lead to more job advancements in their careers. It’s a big step for them to be able to do that.”
Tamara Brown, a student in the class, said the night meant everything to her.
“It’s a huge milestone in my career,” she said. “It’s a major accomplishment.”
Brown said the opportunity to get her BSN through the program was a no-brainer.
HMH fully pays for student tuition in exchange for a two-year contract to stay employed with the health group after graduation.
“It allowed me to do this without going in debt,” Brown said. “And taking the classes at (the hospital) was great. This is home. Being around your co-workers, you bond together. Everyone knows the ins, the outs, what everybody is struggling through.”
It also meant job security for Brown and the rest of her classmates.
“So now I’m under contract for two years to stay here, which is great because I hadn’t planned on going anywhere else,” she said. “It was an added bonus. Job satisfaction guaranteed.”
Heather De Rosa, another student, said she waited 17 years to go back to school.
“This is incredibly special for me,” she said. “I’m a full-time employee, a full-time mom. And even though I put it off for so long, I finally did this.”
De Rosa said she started the program with a group of friends, who’ve since dropped out.
“But I said I was going to stick with it. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity,” she said. “I’m just so relieved.”
De Rosa began her career as a registered nurse at Hardin Memorial Hospital.
After waiting 17 years to get her BSN, De Rosa said the partnership with McKendree came about at the perfect time.
“I don’t know if I would have gotten the same education or not,” she said. “All the other programs I was looking at were online, and I knew I needed a classroom setting. I needed that one-on-one with an instructor to be held accountable. I needed other people just to help support me.”
Wright said paying for the education of current employees makes perfect sense, instead of filling gaps in turnover with new hires.
“When you look at the cost of replacing a nurse, it’s about $68,000 to $75,000 in our region,” Wright said. “So compared to that, our investment in education is minor.”
She said 17 more students are going through the program and should graduate next year.
“It’s a pipeline for progression,” Wright said of the partnership with the college. “There is also a cost of quality of care if you can’t keep a consistent nursing service.”
But the hospital hasn’t stopped at educating its nurses when it comes to tackling the career’s landscape. The health group also is fostering interest with the newest generation of nurses.
Through a partnership with Hardin County School’s Early College and Career Center, students are able to take vocational-style classes in the health sciences field, which gives them a boost when it comes time to enter the job market and think about postsecondary education.
“That partnership is so valuable to HMH,” Wright said. “It sparks the interest of local students and gets them a first line look at health care. It helps them decide if they’ll be interested in this field or not.”
Donna Lynch, lead health sciences instructor at EC3, was picked to lead the program after spending 27 years as an instructor in Meade County.
“We have health sciences teachers at all three high schools. They teach the prerequisites there and then send those students for their industry certifications to EC3,” she said.
EC3 students can take courses and earn certifications in different career programs, such as EKG technician, pre-nursing, pharmacy technician, phlebotomy technician and sports medicine. An advanced nursing course is for students who have passed the state registered nurse program and want a more hands-on learning experience, Lynch said.
Eleven students spend classroom hours at the hospital working as nurse aides in various aspects.
Kaycee Hartman, a senior at Central Hardin High School, is a student in the advanced nursing course. She wants to be a pediatrics nurse.
She and fellow Central Hardin senior, Makayla Deckard, who also wants to go into pediatrics, recently spent class time in the operating room at the hospital.
The pair selected green scrubs and went through a process known as scrubbing in, where nurses wash and sanitize their hands and forearms to prepare for surgery.
Hartman and Deckard then went into the operating room, under supervision, for a direct look at the process.
They both said the hands-on nature helped them better learn and understand the ins and outs of the field.
“We can do a lot of hands-on stuff that CNAs do,” Deckard said. “Which is a lot of patient care. It just helps you learn better.”
Hartman recently watched two different births by cesarean section.
“They have screens in there where you can see everything they are doing,” she said. “I stood on a stool and watched the whole thing.”
The program also gives students a lift in the job market.
Because they all have their certified nursing assistant licenses, they can work in the field while still in high school.
Hartman has a job with Signature HealthCare.
“It just gives you a foot in the door,” Deckard said. “We have a lot more advantages than most students.”
Wright said both partnerships are aimed at recruitment and retention.
“If someone has an interest in nursing, we want to facilitate it,” she said.
Wright said HMH also is working with Elizabethtown Community and Technical College on a future program that will get students started in nursing.
Because of the partnership with McKendree and EC3, the hospital will be there at each step of the way, Wright said.
“There is room in nursing for all levels,” she said. “We want everyone to continue progression and education. We’re not excluding anyone.”