The two largest healthcare systems in North Mississippi, the North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC) and Baptist Memorial based in Memphis, Tenn., aren’t waiting until there is a drastic shortage of nurses to take action. The hospitals are providing funding for two new nursing programs at the University of Mississippi.
“Our hospitals want to employ educated and highly skilled nurses, so these programs are very important to us,” said Jim Ainsworth, vice president at Baptist Memorial. “We’re happy to partner with North Mississippi Medical Center on such a needed and worthy endeavor.”
One of the new programs will make it possible to earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing at the Oxford campus. Twenty students are being accepted in the first class. Previously, nursing students had to complete their studies at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) in Jackson. A second program will provide an accelerated master of science in nursing program for students who do not have a baccalaureate degree in nursing.
“We’re delighted to be able to work with Baptist Memorial Healthcare to support programs of the University of Mississippi on the Oxford campus,” said Gerald D. Wages, COO of NMMC, the largest private hospital in the state. “It is our hope that providing more education here will encourage nurses to stay in North Mississippi.”
Baptist has five hospitals in North Mississippi, and NMMC has five hospitals in North Mississippi and one in Northwest Alabama.
“We both face the same challenge: the availability of well-trained registered nurses,” Wages said. “Our hospital system employs 1,200 registered nurses system- wide. Just to replace normal turnover, we need the availability of good new nurses.”
Wages said master’s level nurses are badly needed for faculty at the community colleges. NMMC also has agreements to support nursing programs at the Mississippi University for Women (MUW), Northeast Mississippi Community College and Itawamba Community College. This year the hospital also started supporting a program at Bevil State Community College in Hamilton, Ala.
“So we have four nursing programs we are already supporting,” Wages said. “Being able to add UM to that mix helps to upgrade the education level of the nurses we are recruiting.”
NMMC operates with a five-year planning process for human resources needs, and share that information with the colleges. That advance planning work has paid off.
“Five years ago we projected the number of nurses needed this year, and because of those projections, the colleges geared up to provide those needed,” Wages said.
Kaye Bender, dean of the school of nursing at UMC, said offering the new programs would not have been possible without private support.
“We couldn’t have done it without the partnership,” Bender said. “You know what state funding is like right now. We’re very excited about this topic. We do have a national nurse shortage. While Mississippi has not been affected as greatly as some parts of the country, we do have data from the Office of Nursing Workforce that shows that after the next few years we need to be graduating more students to serve the state.
“When NMMC and Baptist Health Systems came forward to do this satellite program on the Oxford campus, we were delighted. We think that will help us open some slots here in Jackson, as well as providing more nurses in that part of that state.”
he adds that the School of Nursing actually began on the Oxford campus before moving to Jackson. So, in a sense, the school is moving back to its roots. Bender said another advantage is the satellite nursing program is more cost effective than starting another school of nursing.
“The answer to the nursing shortage isn’t to continue to create new schools of nursing, but figure out creative ways to expand some of those that we have,” Bender said. “About one-third of our entering class in any given year has done their prerequisite work on the Oxford campus. Nursing students must have two years of college first. A number of the students from Oxford have said they would really like to stay there, and at the same time those two big health systems there feel like if they partner with us to provide education, the nurses are more likely to stay after graduation. We think it is just a win-win all the way around.”
Currently a planning team is working to implement the new program. It is anticipated that most classes will be conducted using distance learning technology.
Ricki Garrett, executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Association, said any time private industry can collaborate with state colleges and universities, it is beneficial both to the industry as well as the educational institutions.
“One of the ways in which hospitals are assisting with the shortage is by providing funding for faculty salaries and faculty positions,” Garrett said. “The only way we are going to be able to resolve the nursing shortage is to be able to hire enough faculty at our colleges and universities to meet the demand. It is a significant problem, and we need all the creative ideas we can get to try to resolve it.
“It has been hindering our effort because so few individuals are going into nursing education because the salaries are so much higher in clinical settings. We must find some ways to attract nurses into academia so that we will have the faculty we need in order to teach the students. It is not that we have a shortage of individuals wanting to go into nursing. We have a waiting list at our schools of nursing. We just don’t have the faculty to teach them.”
Garrett said that is why students are needed in the higher level degree programs. Ph.D nurses are needed to be hired as faculty members.
In addition to UMC, nursing programs are offered at Alcorn State University, Delta State University, MUW and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.