For anyone thinking about college or making career course corrections in the middle of a pandemic, the nursing programs at either Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo just might make a lot of sense.
The nation’s nursing shortage is acute and growing larger by the day. With an aging population---Baby Boomers who’ll require more and more healthcare---along with an avalanche of nurses themselves calling it a career, hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, and any place nurses are needed, are screaming STAT! for new healthcare blood. It may not add up to a healthcare crisis, but it’s a very sobering reality. COVID-19 has only underscored the shortage.
The problem is not expected to disappear anytime soon. With a nursing shortage of up to half a million, the problem could linger well past 2025. Employers are being more imaginative than ever in attracting candidates. A recent industry newsletter wrote that some employers are now including incentives that range from healthy bonuses to assistance with school loan paybacks; one employer even dangled home down payments.
Pueblo’s two colleges are doing their job of filling the pipeline. But the demand is still too great to accommodate everyone. “We don’t have a lack of applicants,” said Paula Kirchner, Dean of the PCC nursing program. Of the most recent 200 applicants, only 60 gained admittance. To accommodate candidates living away from Pueblo, PCC also offers satellite program in nearby Cañon City and Mancos, in southwestern Colorado.
Not only are candidates motivated to help others, said Kirchner, but knowing there will be a job after graduation along with a good salary, are pretty good incentives. “A new graduate in Pueblo can make between $65,000-$70,000,” said the program Dean.
PCC’s nursing program also pays dividends in many rural Colorado communities. “Our program keeps a lot of people in their communities,” said Kirchner. A lot of graduates return home to work there. “If we didn’t offer our services in the southern part of the state,” she said, “they would be without health care,” or, at the very least, easy to access health care. PCC also works with the Southern Ute nation in southwestern Colorado.
Across town at CSU-Pueblo, nursing candidates can focus on any one of three nurse practitioner programs, said Dr. Joe Franta, Dean of the College of Health Education and Nursing. A nurse practitioner, said Franta, is someone who can do everything from writing prescriptions to providing primary care in a hospital.
The CSU-Pueblo program has grown tremendously since Franta arrived on campus in 2007. “When I first started, we probably had fourteen students in a cohort,” he said. “We now have 45.” The program is ranked in the top five nursing programs in the state and its Graduate Nursing Program was named “Best Value Nursing Program” for 2019-2020 by GraduateNursingEDU.org.
The face of nursing is also quietly changing. For years, it had been an almost exclusively female vocation. In the PCC program, said Kirchner, it’s still overwhelmingly female but growing in male applicants and students. Kirchner estimates the most recent class is “85 percent female.”
A number of students are coming straight from the military where they served as medics. But military and civilians standards are not the same. A state board determines where a former military medic can be placed in the program, said Kirchner. Former military applicants must meet certain requirements. If successful, they may “enter at the second level”.
Coming in the Fall of 2021, said Kirchner, is a new 450,000 square foot facility for the program. PCC students will move into the vacated St. Mary Corwin hospital building, made available when the hospital downsized. When it was determined that it would be too expensive to demolish the building it was offered to the college. The facility is under renovation and will reopen next Fall as part of PCC. “We jumped at the opportunity,” said Kirchner. “It’s exciting to see the community and college investing in the infrastructure of Pueblo, all the while, retaining historical designation.”