LIMA — Denise Cook has always loved being a nurse.
She’s been giving shots, taking temperatures and lifting spirits for 44 years, starting her career at what was then known as St. Rita’s Hospital and has since become Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.
She could talk to you for hours about it.
That’s fitting because today she’s an example of one of the bigger challenges affecting the medical field — the nursing shortage and resulting experience gap.
Now 65 years old, Cook is looking forward to retirement in March, one of many baby boomers who are now exiting the profession. She, like others her age, are leaving an experience gap nationwide that will need to be replaced by younger nurses.
It’s a situation very familiar to Cory Werts, the chief nursing officer at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center, and Ann Pohl, Lima Memorial Health System’s chief nursing officer.
“You have not only a number shortage, but the experience that leaves when nurses retire,” Pohl said.
“There have been lots of theories as to why there is a nursing shortage, and the one we hear is the aging population, where there are more people to take care of and less people who have chosen the nursing profession,” she said.
A critical time
The next 10 years will be a critical time for training new nurses.
The average age of nurses at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s is 44. The average tenure for a registered nurse is 10 years, and there are about 800 RNs at the hospital.
At Lima Memorial Health System, the average age of an RN is 42, the average RN tenure is nine years, and there are 593 nurses at the hospital.
Werts said the shortage will be felt nationwide and locally for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurse technicians. Then, she said, it will let up.
“We know by 2030 there will not be a nursing shortage,” Werts said. “By then, the number of people who are entering into the profession will outweigh the demand.”
Werts has been a nurse for 18 years. Her perception of the nursing shortage is a cyclical one, with it now seeing a high demand.
”Within the last two years, there has been a struggle to get a large pool of nurses to hire at the hospital,” Werts said.
Adding to the demand for more nurses is an aging population that needs their care.
Werts said St. Rita’s has seen an increase in the home healthcare it offers.
“It is forcing us, in a good way, to find ways to take care of the elderly in their home,” Werts said. “The role of the nurse in the home is not always to provide care but to also teach caregivers living in the home to provide care.”
Shanna Barns, the executive director at Springview Manor in Lima, said there are 28 nurses there, including RNs and LPNs, and 46 nursing assistants at the facility.
“I have seen individuals who come to us who are a lot sicker than they have been in the past. They come to us instead of staying in the hospital,” Barns said.
She agreed more people are aging in their homes. Facilities like hers now see themselves partnering with home health agencies to provide care for the elderly who are homebound. It’s just one more way the demand for nurses has grown.
Educating future nurses
As a baby-boom nurse, Cook witnessed tremendous advances in technology. Long gone are the days when a nurse recorded blood pressures by hand and used mercury thermometers to take temperatures. New technology has become a nurse’s friend. Using electronic documentation for recording vital signs, medications and patient assessment has become second nature. Change and continuing education are the rules of the day.
It’s something being taught to nursing students at schools throughout the area.
For instance, nursing students at Apollo Career Center complete an 11-month program where they receive a hands-on learning experience in labs. Various healthcare facilities will offer clinical experience. Lectures on theory prepare them to be competent entry-level nurses and take the nursing board exam.
In the labs, students learn about a variety of nursing competencies such as vital signs, dressing changes, giving immunizations/medications and putting in catheters. These competencies are assessed by instructors prior to their clinicals, where they perform those tasks on patients.
The career center had a class of 19 nursing students who graduated Jan. 8 and are waiting to take their nursing exam. There are 20 students in the current class that began in August and will graduate in June. Another new class begins March 9 where approximately 36 students are expected to be enrolled.
“We have different start dates for our nursing program to try to get nurses graduated and ready for employment,” said Lisa Brackney, Apollo Career Center practical nursing program director.
Don’t stand still
Schools are always looking for ways to improve their programs or find new partnerships.
Eric Mason, Rhodes State College interim dean of health science and nursing program administrator, said the college has 293 nursing students this semester.
“We are beginning to change the style in which we teach the concept of clinical decision-making to students in the classroom, and then we reinforce it in the clinical setting,” Mason said.
Bluffton just started its nursing program in 2017. It has 21 nursing students enrolled in its program. The college offers a bachelor’s in nursing degree, where students are at the college all four years. The second two years of schooling students are duly enrolled by taking classes at Bluffton as well as Northwest State Community College in Archbold or Rhodes State College. At the end of their third year, students finish their associates of applied science in nursing degree at the community college level and then get their bachelor’s in nursing degree.
“There is a constant demand on schools to constantly ramp up their curriculum to train for those skills,” said Sherri Winegardner, Bluffton University director of nursing.
What hasn’t changed
Cook will tell you there weren’t a lot of career choices easily available for women when she graduated from Riverside Methodist School of Nursing in Columbus in 1975.
“You were either a nurse or teacher,” Cook said.
That’s certainly not the case today. The walls have come down as well as the stereotypes. Women have career options in manufacturing, engineering, police work … you name it. Men are becoming nurses.
Yet, with all the changes, Cook proudly points to one thing that has been constant in her 44 years as a nurse, job fulfillment.
“It is an opportunity to live your personal mission of helping and serving others,” Cook said. “The need to care for people is still a part of why we do what we do.”
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.