Howard college targets nursing

High demand in field prompts accessible classes

May 12, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Employers started calling Terri Schreyer months before graduation, relentlessly, until she stopped answering her telephone.

The Howard Community College student had picked a profession that's in high demand -- nursing.

A shortage of nurses statewide has left hospitals, assisted-living facilities and other health care agencies struggling to fill positions. The situation is expected to worsen because enrollment in nursing schools has dropped and the number of licensed nurses has declined as jobs for nurses have increased. The average age of practicing nurses in Maryland is 46, according to the Maryland Board of Nursing.

Calling it a crisis, the state is convening a commission to study the issue and make recommendations.

Howard Community College is one of the few schools in Maryland where students can study nursing entirely in the evenings and on weekends. Designed to attract working adults, the college's after-hours program started in 1992.

Students can opt for daytime classes, too. But the night option draws people -- some from outside the county -- who work full time and wouldn't be able to enter the nursing profession any other way.

College administrators also are opening spaces in a course this summer that prepares students for the licensed practical nurse exam. Instructors figure that will get more people into nursing jobs quickly, including students who plan to study an extra year for the more comprehensive registered nurse license.

Emily Slunt, chairwoman of the college's health sciences division and director of the nursing education program, says administrators are trying to think creatively to address the shortage. She's also hoping to recruit more people out of high school -- the average nursing student at HCC is 28 -- and is working with the Howard County public school system.

Donna Dorsey, executive director of the Maryland Board of Nursing, said she welcomes anything colleges can do to attract more people to the field.

"If we can't get students into the education programs, we're not going to have more nurses," she said.

Part of the reason for the nursing shortage is that opportunities for nurses are growing, Dorsey said.

They can be found in management and emergency care. Nurses help the terminally ill in hospices, babies in pediatric units, patients in psychiatric centers and doctors in dealing with insurance regulations. Nurses also are doing research, Slunt said.

"They're very marketable in a variety of settings," said Slunt, who is getting an increasing number of calls from people trying to recruit HCC nursing majors.

"People will wine and dine us, trying to get our graduates to consider their agency," she joked.

About 75 percent of the Howard Community College students graduating next week -- students who have to pass their registered-nurse exams -- have jobs, the nursing staff estimates. That compares with about 25 percent several years ago.

Many of the students who don't have nursing jobs lined up are holding off because they want to pass the licensing exam first, Slunt said.

Schreyer, president of the college's nursing club, will start work in July at Johns Hopkins Hospital, her first choice. She landed the position in January.

She has lost track of how many hospitals tried to recruit her, but the number astounded her.

"After a while, I didn't even answer the phone," said Schreyer, 42, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology and spent years in the mental health field. "It's unbelievable. I have never been sought like this, never."

Sixty-two nursing students are expected to graduate Thursday. This week, before final exams, they received one last preparation for the job, an unannounced emergency.

Entering a nursing lab in small groups for a role-playing assignment, students were told that they were new hires at the "HCC medical intensive care unit" and would be introduced to procedures and protocols.

Instead, they had to deal with a simulated cardiac arrest, courtesy of a lifelike manikin.

Shady Grove Hospital nurse Christine Wyrsch shouted instructions as students scurried about in the small patient room, giving the patient oxygen, giving him medicine intravenously, checking his pulse and trying to restart his heart.

Ellicott City residents Jerrilynn Boone and Jay Pantke teamed, alternating between mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"Do we have a rhythm? Do we have a pulse?" Wyrsch yelled over the cacophony, defibrillators in hand.

A consulting instructor for the community college, she said the drill will help students stay calm when they're faced with an emergency.

Graduating can be nerve-racking, too, said Regina McClune, the college's nursing laboratory manager. But she's finding that the nursing shortage has tempered the normal element of the unknown. Most students know where they're going and what they'll be doing.

"It's really making these last couple of weeks enjoyable for them," she said.

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