Building Interest in Nursing Careers

By Reese, Susan | Techniques, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Building Interest in Nursing Careers


Reese, Susan, Techniques


In Austin, Texas, efforts are being made to promote nursing as a career, and those efforts involve a special partnership of education and health care organizations.

"Nurses combine the art of caring with the science of health care."

That's how the American Nurses Association (ANA) describes the essence of nursing, but in recent years concern has been growing about a shortage of trained professionals in the field.

In February 2004, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its list of the 10 occupations with the largest projected job growth in the years 2002-2012, registered nurses (RNs) were at the top of the list. American Nurses Association President Barbara A. Blakeney noted at the time that it was not surprising given our aging population and the fact that many in the nursing workforce would be retiring soon. Those factors translate into projected job openings of more than 1.1 million due to both job growth and the net replacement of nurses.

"These new projections underscore the need to increase our recruitment and retention efforts at the local, state and federal levels," Blakeney noted in an ANA press release. "If sustained efforts are not made to address the nursing shortage now, both access to and quality of care will be impacted."

Fortunately, efforts are being made to address the situation, and some of these involve partnerships of business and industry organizations with both secondary and postsecondary education.

In 2003, Lynn Heimerl, senior program coordinator for the Capital Area Health Education Center in Austin, Texas, was contacted by Bonnie Clipper Salzberg, RN, MA, MBA, the chief nursing officer/VP of Austin's St. David's Medical Center. Salzberg had read about a program in which the James A. Haley Hospital in Tampa, FIa., was offering a summer nursing internship for high school students, and she wanted to know if Heimerl might be interested in doing something similar-and if she thought they could make it work in Austin.

"It seemed like a gap for us; we were aggressively pursuing nursing students but not building a pipeline to get the best and brightest students interested in nursing in the first place" says Salzberg.

"That is how the pilot project started," explains Heimerl. The East Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program is a nonprofit organization working in 21 counties in the areas of health careers promotion, community-based education, practice entry and support, and health education. Activities and services include a career center, individual career counseling, mentoring and job shadowing experiences, a health careers summer camp and professional development for educators. There is a multi-media puppet program called "The Great Hospital Adventure," and a nursing recruitment program, G.R.LN. (Growing Regional Interest in Nursing).

Through the new nursing academy, the organization hoped to attract "the best and the brightest" students to the nursing field. To meet that goal, the decision was made to pilot two academies. The first would be a one-day event for high school counselors in the Austin Independent School District, and the second would be a two-day program designed for seventh and eighth grade students.

Steering Students Toward Nursing

In a meeting she had attended previously, Heimerl had heard from a high school counselor that one of the reasons counselors did not promote nursing to their students was that they were confused by the many choices in the field and didn't feel confident about steering their students in the best direction. From that meeting she concluded that designing an academy especially for high school counselors "seemed both logical and time efficient."

Recognizing the importance of the middle school years both in developing career interests and in maintaining interest and self-confidence in math and science, the planning committee decided to focus on middle school students and their parents. …

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