By Crystal Sands
Nursing has always been a difficult and important job, but in the last two years, as our nation has grappled with a pandemic, our country has seen just how valuable nurses are at saving lives and keeping our healthcare system functioning. But, according to recent studies, our nurses are struggling. According to a study from Nurse.org, a nursing shortage in 2022 looms because nurses are simply exhausted and burned out. According to the study, 87 percent of nurses said they felt burned out in the last year, and 84 percent said they were underpaid.
Staffing shortages in nursing add to burn out, which often leads to more staffing shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic was hard on nurses, and it’s important to recognize that working conditions for nurses ultimately impact all of us. Without a strong workforce in the field of nursing, none of us would be able to receive quality medical care.
With national shortages an ongoing struggle, the nursing programs in our area are working hard to train nurses at all levels to meet the demands of our healthcare system in the coming years. In the Bangor area, the University of Maine, Husson University and Beal University are all taking steps to ensure we have a strong nursing workforce in our area and beyond.
Dr. Kelley Strout, interim Associate Dean of Health Science and Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Maine, said enrollments in the University of Maine Nursing program have been steady in the last five years, with no increase in applications since the pandemic. However, Strout emphasizes that they are working to expand their enrollments in their graduate programs.
“We have a critical shortage of nursing faculty statewide,” Strout says. “Only 8% of the total nursing workforce in Maine has earned an advanced degree in nursing, and the majority of the 8% are Family Nurse Practitioners providing primary care across the state.”
Strout says the University of Maine has worked to create engaging and important specialty programs in the graduate school in order to attract more advanced nursing students. She says the Master of Science in Nursing program now offers specialty tracks in public health, leadership, aging, nursing education and more. Moreover, with the exception of the Family Nurse Practitioner program, all options in the graduate program are now offered online, which makes the programs more accessible to nursing students across the state. Strout added they are currently waiving application fees to the program. “We truly cannot graduate more entry-level nurses across the state without increasing our pool of advanced practice nurses who are prepared to educate the next generation of nursing students,” says Strout.
This effort to create more nursing educators aligns directly with the needs of the nursing program at Beal University. Dr. Colleen Koob, Dean of the School of Nursing at Beal, says enrollments in nursing have been down in the past year but that the program just enrolled a maximum number of students for the May program start. However, there are still concerns about meeting the demands for nurses.
“One of the biggest issues with enrollment is the need for nurse educators,” Koob says. “We need our full-time faculty to have a minimum of a Master’s of Science in Nursing. We do not have enough Master-prepared nurses to educate the nurse of the future.”
While the expanded and more flexible program at the University of Maine can definitely help fill this gap, Koob says that Beal University has also started a Master’s of Science in Nursing program.
Koob says that finding clinical sites also remains a challenge in graduating nurses. “It is difficult to find enough sites willing to work with the many different nursing programs across the state. Scheduling these clinical rotations in numerous facilities is one of the most difficult things any nursing program faces,” she says.
Koob says Beal University continues to make efforts to meet the growing demand for nurses. Beal has launched a program in Wilton, which is now in addition to their program in Bangor. Koob says, looking to the future, the immediate needs are for students to become more aware of the Wilton offerings, for more clinical sites and for more nursing educators.
At Husson University, Dr. Valerie Sauda, Undergraduate Nursing Director and Associate Professor of Nursing, shares Dr. Koob and Dr. Strout’s concern about the need for more nursing educators. Dr. Sauda says there is certainly a demand for advanced programs for nurses, as the world sees a growing demand for nurses in the pandemic wanes. Sauda says enrollment in Husson’s programs have been steady but that there is movement “in the upward direction” for enrollment in the Bachelor’s program for the upcoming fall semester.
Like the University of Maine and Beal University, Husson’s programs are focused on creating flexibility for all students who are interested in becoming nurses. Husson University is also offering online options for students, as meeting the demand for nurses is of the utmost importance.
“Recruitment to nursing has been continuous and ongoing throughout the pandemic experience over the last two years as we experience increased demands for nursing across the U.S. and the world,” Sauda says. Fortunately, Husson’s recruitment efforts have been successful. “We are now seeing an increase in applicants who are interested in changing careers to ‘give back’ in a meaningful way to help others at times of most vulnerability, as well as seeing high school students seek an opportunity in nursing that will prepare them for a career that offers flexibility, diversity of opportunities across the career and financial stability.”
In terms of recruitment needs, Sauda emphasizes the need for applicants with diverse backgrounds to address changing healthcare needs in our state and across the country.
As the world works to find some kind of normalcy at the end of a two-year pandemic, the field of nursing is surely looking even harder toward normalcy. The last two years have been particularly hard on our nurses at all levels, but we are fortunate to live in an area with three strong nursing programs from three respected universities. Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system, and the University of Maine, Beal University and Husson University are all working hard to ensure that we have enough nurses to keep our systems running and to keep all of us in good hands when we need medical care.
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