Program may ease growing nursing shortage

By Jessica Bakeman/The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON — The Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce may have accidentally found a way to increase the number of students one nursing educator can reach.

A grant-funded program launched in 2009, the Geriatric Dedicated Education Unit Initiative, involves grouping one to three students with a working nurse in the geriatric ward of a hospital or other care facility while nursing faculty oversee the mentors.

As the programs continue to grow — four nursing schools and six hospitals and care facilities throughout the state are already participating — they would allow for larger classes to enroll in nursing programs, even without adding faculty.

Recruiting and funding additional faculty members is the main barrier to admitting more students.

Through this program, the geriatric field nurses receive additional training in order to extend their role as instructors. Eventually, the nurse facilitators, as they’re called, are able to take up to three students for as long as a semester, and faculty members are able to oversee eight to 10 facilitators.

The program creates a multiplication effect, allowing the faculty members to supervise as many as 30 students at a time instead of eight or 10, said Wanda Jones, executive director of the workforce office.

The schools involved haven’t yet reached that level, but they are on their way. At the University of Mississippi Medical Center, there are 10 nursing students working with facilitators in two units, all being overseen by one faculty member, said Kim Stonecypher, clinical director for adult services. In the future, she said, each unit will have 10 students, therefore placing 20 students under the supervision of one faculty member.

She said she did not know yet what the timeline would be for such a development.

The other nursing schools participating are Mississippi College, Hinds Community College and Itawamba Community College. Students work at UMC, Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, St. Dominic Hospital, Central Mississippi Medical Center, North Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center.

Accommodating more students with fewer faculty wasn’t the program’s original goal, Jones said. “What we wanted to do was to enhance the clinical education of our students so that they become more confident and have an easier transition once they graduate,” she said.

Students work with geriatric patients because they represent a majority of whom nurses will care for in the field, she said. In the process, students who might have seen working with older patients as less exciting than, for example, working in an emergency room, grow to value the experience.

“These units are the ones that are most difficult to recruit to and to retain nurses, especially new nurses,” Jones said. “Since this program has started, some of the units that we work with have almost no vacancies and almost zero turnover rates.”

About 250 students, faculty and nurse facilitators have participated so far, and they report high satisfaction rates, as do the patients and hospital administrators, she said.

Stonecypher said the program has had positive effects on those involved at UMC.

“It has not only allowed our students to have more clinical experiences, but also, it has promoted a stronger relationship between the hospital … and the nursing school,” she said.

The nurse facilitators especially enjoy the experience, Stonecypher said. “Most nurses love to teach others what they know.”

Administrators from other clinical spaces have now heard about and shown interest in participating in the program, which is modeled after a successful initiative in Portland, Ore. And though the grant runs out this year, Jones said, “The facilities that we’ve been working with are so pleased with the project they want to continue it without the additional funding.”