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Educating the nurses of the future

College nursing programs look to recruit more students toward medical profession

The country has been facing a potential nursing shortage for some time.

The United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast, published in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality, stated that a shortage of registered nurses has been projected to spread across the country between 2009 and 2030.

A 2014 survey of 53,000 registered nurses conducted by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation found that one-third of them ages 55 to 65 or older intend to retire within five years.

This has college nursing programs attempting to fill the gaps with the way they recruit and train students.

Lewis University in Romeoville has a highly successful program in Will County.

Its nursing program boasts a 97.6 percent passing rate for the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, the nationwide exam for licensing registered nurses in the U.S. Even with a degree, graduates need to pass the exam to practice nursing.

"The demographics for the country definitely are reflecting that we are going to need more nurses," said Meg Puente, a nursing instructor at Lewis University.

One way Lewis University is trying to attract students is through its accelerated program in which adults who already have a bachelor's degree in another field can get their nursing degree in about 18 months, or five semesters including summers. Lewis offers classes for accelerated nursing students at night, which allows them to at least work a part-time job while studying.

Students say it's an intense experience, but it's worth it to get into a field they feel is worthwhile. It also helps that Lewis University has modern facilities and technology that help students actually practice and apply the knowledge they've acquired.

Besides classrooms and study areas that were renovated in 2012, there are simulation labs in which students can practice with medical dummies dressed as patients. Instructors are able to communicate, behind one-way windows, although the dummies and parts of the dummy's body can light up to indicate a specific medical problem.

Puente said that with technological advancements, that also means changes in the demands of the job, like more in-home nursing and community health needs that take health care outside of more expensive hospitals.

In addition, nursing students such as Alexander Kravitz, 23, of Gurnee, said that they also liked the small cohort of students going through the program together. Kravitz said that there also is a better balance of demographics, specifically for a profession that is overwhelmingly female.

"I think we're kind of the forefront of nursing where more males are getting into it," Kravitz said.

Still, Kravitz said they have frank talks in class about the challenges of the profession, including working in understaffed departments and getting burned out. He said his instructors emphasize the importance of nurses taking care of themselves in a demanding and stressful job.

Puente agreed that the job is demanding, but there are other opportunities beyond working in a hospital to pursue. To Puente, nurses will always be needed because of the human interaction they provide patients. She said nurses are the ones there to listen and help patients understand what is needed to keep them healthy.

"Nurses will always be needed," Puente said.

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