Nursing becomes more specialized to meet market demand

(Sun Herald) KC Arnold always knew she wanted to become a nurse like her mother. After more than 12 years providing care as a nurse at Keesler AFB, Arnold found herself suddenly out of a job and needing care and reassurance herself to find a new path.

Grappling with an “involuntary separation” — as the Air Force had a drawdown of medical personnel — Arnold said the uncertainty of her future career caused her to re-evaluate the type of healthcare provider she could be.

During her time at KAFB, she became a diabetes educator and discovered her passion was helping those afflicted with diabetes. “My son said it didn’t matter to him what I did and he still loved me anyway,” Arnold said.

Her son helped her refocus and gave her the strength to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner.

“The choice to go on and become a (nurse practitioner) was to build on what I thought I could do in this community to help with diabetes.”

State of nursing

Sandra Bishop, DNS, RN, an associate dean for the College of Nursing at USM Gulf Coast and director of oncology for Memorial Hospital in Gulfport — said adaptation and a willingness to further one’s education is key to maintaining a career in healthcare today.

Bishop, who has 32 years of experience in healthcare, said the Institutes of Medicine 2010 report called for nurses to practice to the full extent of their education, achieve higher levels of education and to be full partners with physicians and other health professionals.

“The market is in a state of flux at this time,” she said. “There are more opportunities for advanced practice nurses (family nurse practitioners, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners and adult-gerontological nurse practitioners, etc.) than for the novice nurse. Over the years, the need for more nurses in all categories has cycled from abundance to drastic shortages.”

Dr. Joan Hendrix, college dean of nursing and allied health at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College said that generalist nurses are still in demand.

“Although I do believe nursing careers are gradually shifting to more specialized concentrations, like emergency, psychiatric, maternal-child, critical care and long-term care nursing, nursing careers begin largely within hospital settings and outpatient offices where patient-care needs vary and where employers require a broad array of skill-sets from nursing graduates,” she said.

“Nursing graduates at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College are trained to function in many roles so they can be successful in a variety of clinical settings, enhancing their marketability in today’s competitive job market.”

Dr. Janet Williams, director of nursing at William Carey University, said the changes in society, economy and the Affordable Care Act requirements have created new demands and new opportunities for nursing education and practice.

“We are revising master’s program to offer degree in nursing education and also affording them specialty tracks such as gerontology, case management, administration and population-based practice,” she said. “Somebody has to know how to put those programs together.”

Williams has also put an emphasis in case management training to lessen the percentage of patient re-admission, which can result in fines against hospitals. “We’ve got to have case managers to help these patients and oversee what they need” after they are dismissed.”

And, as a direct result of health care regulation changes, Williams said the school has added health information management program to help administrators of medical records navigate the regulations. The first students will be admitted to this program in February.

Bottom line, Williams said: “Our task is to make sure we are putting out graduates who can meet current health care needs of the community.”

She said that nursing goes through cycles. “We go through acute shortages, then we have enough. I’ve lived through four or five of those. Right now in Mississippi, graduates are still finding jobs. For the most part, 99 percent of graduates are employed six months after graduation.”

She said as the economy improves, there will be more nursing positions available. “When the economy was bad, more nurses were staying longer or going back to work because their spouses may have lost their jobs,” she said. “Nurses always work. You just don’t find nurses collecting unemployment.”

Bishop agreed.

“More students are seeking nursing as a second career,” she said. Many of our students, upon completing the BSN degree, enter the nurse practitioner program and … we have had premed students change to nursing.”

Meeting the demand

Arnold — who previously obtained her BSN from SUNY-Binghamton — used her GI Bill to go to school at University of South Alabama in Mobile for her MSN to become an adult acute care nurse practitioner.

Though completing her master’s provided more job opportunities, Arnold found herself, once again, looking for a job when the satellite office she was working in closed shortly after Katrina.

Three weeks later, Arnold went into business for herself opening the doors to The Diabetes Center, PLLC.

For her part, Arnold has owned her own clinic in Ocean Springs for more than seven years and is helping people have a “better-controlled life with diabetes” without having to travel as far as Jackson for care.

Arnold added two nurse practitioners — Samantha McGill, FNP, and Traci Evans, ANP — to prepare for the increased number of patients expected with The Affordable Care Act in the upcoming year. Samantha is trained to treat children ages 3 and up for diabetes.

“No one in this community has offered care for this age group,” she said. “Children in this community have had to travel to Jackson, Mobile or Louisiana for care.”

In 2010, Arnold’s clinic won the HIMSS Davies Ambulatory Care Award, a national award based on success in technology implementation. Arnold said she was the first nurse practitioner-owned clinic to win the award.

Added Arnold: “We want to be able to offer comprehensive diabetes management for anyone with diabetes that wants to be healthier. It’s my heart.”