Nurses teaming up to ease shortage

June 01, 2003|By RICHARD BELISLE

Waynesboro Hospital administrators are trying to solve a shortage of nurses in the critical care unit with a program that only large metropolitan hospitals usually put into practice.

The program puts a two-year graduate nurse on the floor with an experienced licensed staff nurse for a year at the end of which the young nurse is promoted to a full-fledged nursing position in the unit.

Small community hospitals like Waynesboro don't hire graduate nurses for critical care units, said Karla Lear, 48, manager of critical care and surgical services. She's also in charge of the pilot training program.


The mentoring program is being tried in Waynesboro, said Sheran White, spokeswoman for Summit Health, which owns Waynesboro and Chambersburg hospitals.

Stacey Helfrick, 21, of Waynesboro, a recent graduate of Hagerstown Community College's two-year nursing degree program, is one of four graduate nurses in Waynesboro's program.

Lear said Waynesboro Hospital's complement of critical care unit nurses should number 25.

"This winter, we were down to 16 because of retirements, relocations and promotions," she said.

The hospital hired four experienced CCU nurses, but that still leaves the unit five short. The hope is that the mentoring program will fill the gap.

The four rookie nurses will spend the first six months in a variety of hospital experiences working in the CCU, emergency room, family birthing, pharmacy, outpatient surgery, medical surgical floor and diagnostic imaging, among others, Lear said. They will learn to read monitors, change dressings, check patient vital signs and do some blood tests.

Helfrick, like her fellow students, said she expects to take the state boards for her nurse's license at the end of six months.

The other half of the year will be spent learning critical care skills including reading EKGs and issuing medications and developing advance life support skills, Lear said.

Helfrick said 36 of the 45 students who started in her class at HCC graduated.

She said she chose the two-year degree program over the four-year program "because I get to use my training faster. If you stay in the four-year program, you keep learning and learning, but you don't get to use what you've learned."

She plans eventually to return to school for her four-year degree.

Waynesboro Hospital has tuition reimbursement programs that are forgiven for continued service, White said.

The nationwide demand for nurses makes it easy for graduates to find work. Helfrick said every one of her classmates who looked for a job found one.

"I knew I had a position in January," she said.

Fewer women are choosing nursing as a career, Helfrick said. "In the olden days, it was what girls did, but there are more opportunities for women today," she said.

There are also significant financial rewards for graduate nurses in the Waynesboro mentoring program.

Two-year graduate nurses in the program earn $19.64 an hour. In a year, if they complete the new program, they will earn up to $27 an hour as critical care nurses based on their experience, White said.

"They're our guinea pigs," Lear said of Helfrick and her colleagues.

The program will be reviewed at the end of the year.

"We'll see if it's worthwhile. If it is, four more graduate nurses would be recruited next year," she said.

"This creates an environment where nurses can continue to grow up the clinical ladder," White said.

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