Demand for nurses growing feverish

(Journal Gazette) For a year, 29-year-old Lisel Guevara missed plenty of birthday parties because of her weekend shift as a practical nurse at Harbour Assisted Living on Coliseum Boulevard in Fort Wayne.

She learned the importance of a three-hour nap and a strong cup of coffee as she did her homework through the week with her 2-year-old in the house. Fortunately, her husband understood when she explained that she would be committed to nursing for a while.

“You have to have that understanding with your partner or spouse, that nursing is your new spouse now and it gets all of your attention,” Guevara says. “If you are committed elsewhere it’s unlikely you’ll succeed.”

As the youngest baby boomers enter into their 50s, the health care industry is in need of nurses to replace retiring nurses. The demand has put an increasing interest in nursing education, and local hospitals and colleges continue to forge relationships to provide education required for the ever-changing medical field.

Jewel Diller, Ivy Tech Community College’s dean of the school of nursing, says that aging baby boomers will need more health care than ever before, which means that new nurses will be expected to take on more responsibilities and patients.

“Nurses are retiring every day,” Diller says. “Plus, hospitals locally have expanded. These two forces together have made a lot of opportunities available for our students. People should be pouring in and applying to be a nurse right now.”

Guevara graduated from Ivy Tech with an associate degree in nursing in May, becoming a registered nurse after passing her state exam. Guevara was promoted as the director of nursing at Harbour Assisted Living a week after the school’s pinning ceremony – known as the official initiation into the nursing field.

“It’s very exciting, so many doors have opened for me,” Guevara says. “I absolutely love my new job. I know it’s a job that’s suited to my ability and my passions as a nurse.”

Ivy Tech also works with IPFW to provide nursing students a seamless transfer to an institution that offers a bachelor’s degree program in nursing. Carol Sternberger, chairwoman of IPFW’s school of nursing and vice chancellor of faculty development, says since working as a partner with Parkview Health since 1989, the university’s nursing program has grown into a full-fledged department offering a traditional four-year baccalaureate program and an online program for working nurses continuing their education.

“Many places require a baccalaureate degree for entry-level positions. Patients are so sick now, and a nurse with an associate degree needs a stronger skill set because the demands are so heavy,” Sternberger says.

Sternberger says that Parkview is working with the school to focus on interdisciplinary groups and decision-making. She says that the school is also developing four more courses with Parkview Health.

“They want students to have a greater understanding of the overall changes within an institution,” Sternberger says. “When you’re a novice nurse, sometimes your focus is just getting your patients well.”

To help new nurses acclimate to working on a full-time basis, the University of Saint Francis and Lutheran Health Network are launching a 12-month residency that begins in August.

“Research has shown trends throughout the country that in the first six to nine months, registered nurses can become overwhelmed and decide to resign from the profession,” says Mary Ellen McAfee, education coordinator at St. Joseph Hospital and the nurse residency program co-chair. “So, many hospitals and institutions are implementing resident programs in an effort to help with recruitment and to increase retention.”

Nurses who have graduated from Saint Francis with two letters of recommendation and have been employed by a Lutheran Health Network facility for a year or less are eligible to apply for the program. They will attend six education sessions and be partnered with an experienced nurse in their facility for monthly discussions. McAfee and Jan Colone, Lutheran Health Network director of education, says applications are available this month and they expect to have 30 nurses for the first class in the fall.

“We want to create a program that will develop nurses who are stronger,” Colone says. “They will be more successful because we invested the extra time.”