Growing the healthcare workforce: What area universities are doing to attract students



Colleges, universities working to get students with employers more quickly.

With an ongoing shortage of healthcare workers, local colleges are offering students quicker paths to graduate and higher rates of residency placements to get the next generation of medical workforce through the door.

A shortage of health care workers was already being anticipated before the pandemic due to the age of the workforce. In 2017, the majority of the nursing workforce was close to retirement, with more than half age 50 and older, and almost 30% age 60 and older, according to the American Hospital Association.

On the physician side, the Association of American Medical Colleges said the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

“Globally, since the impact of COVID, medical professions aren’t as well received as they have been in previous years,” said Dr. Melissa A. Wilson, a Wright State University department chair.

Wilson said the students she hears from now are joining the profession because it’s been a lifelong passion.

“They’re going into it because perhaps they had an illness as a child and a nurse helped them recover,” Wilson said.

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Area colleges and universities are working with local hospitals to change that.

The schools are offering various pathways to students who have that passion to get them into those careers faster. Wilson said Wright State University’s College of Health Education and Health Science’s partners with high schools and clinical partners to give potential students the opportunity to gain health care experiences first hand, including giving opportunities for students to work part-time in a health care facility while continuing studies.

Wright State also added the option of a three-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program in addition to its traditional four-year program, Wilson said. Students can get their degree in a shorter amount of time.

“This will attract individuals seeking a shorter pathway to enter the nursing profession or advance their nursing/health care options, most notably prior military, second degree students, and LPNs (licensed practical nurses),” Wilson said.

Wright State University’s Department of Nursing, along with nine other universities across the U.S., also received a $100,000 grant from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to develop and implement a competency-based learning and assessment curriculum.

The redesigned curriculum will focus on developing nursing students’ leadership professionalism skills, making sure they have the skills needed to care safely for patients when they graduate and enter the workforce. The effort includes enhancing how nursing faculty assess their students’ nursing skills and competence.

“What we’re trying to do is create practice-ready graduates. The gap between a graduate who is ready to practice and those who are not has been widening and the goal of our grant is to decrease that gap,” said Dr. Ann Bowling, associate professor of nursing and assistant chair of nursing programs at Wright State.

Dr. Rena Sebor, dean of Health Sciences at Sinclair Community College, said they are seeing wide interest from students to fill gaps in health care fields, and the college is working with employers to get students into those positions quicker through offering credentialing while students pursue their associate’s degrees.

“About one in three students who enroll in Sinclair declare an interest in health sciences,” Sebor said.

The certificate programs allow students to join the workforce sooner while they continue studies. Sinclair also has its Health Science Academy, which partners with employers in the area to help their employees further their education. With the tuition assistance offered by Sinclair and employers as part of the Health Science Academy, many students have zero out of pocket costs.

Sinclair is also seeing wide interest in its BSN program, which was announced late last year. Current registered nurses will be able to get a BSN from Sinclair for the first time in the college’s history when a new completion program begins in January 2024.

The college has also expanded other programs, Sebor said, due to added clinical opportunities in area health care facilities.

“We now increased the number of nursing students and respiratory therapist students,” Sebor said. “We’re increasing that about 20%.” Sinclair will also be increasing their number of radiologic technologists, which specialize in x-ray and computed tomography, by 20% this fall.

“It’s because of those relationships and partnerships that we’re able to commit to taking in more students,” Sebor said about Sinclair’s affiliations with employers.

University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Dean Dr. Ali Carr-Chellman said their health sciences programs typically see more applicants than their program can accept. Its programs are limited by making sure the university has enough medical field placements.

Carr-Chellman said they have “extremely high placement rates,” with 100% of their health science students this year getting placed either in graduate school, a job in their field, or a volunteer program in their field.

“That number has gone up,” Carr-Chellman said. “I think there are more needs in the community for our health scientists.”

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A lot of the faculty in the health sciences will also allow and work with undergraduate students on their research.

“That’s a really unusual feature because most programs won’t have undergraduate students working with them on their research,” Carr-Chellman said. “It’s a really good opportunity to distinguish one’s self, and I think that is actually contributing to that high placement rate.”

Area universities are also working on addressing the burnout those in the health care field experience, helping to prepare students for that possibility so they have the resiliency skills needed to stay in the profession.

“We need the students to have more of a reality check in school. They need to know what they’re really getting into,” said Dr. Angie Mickle, Cedarville University’s dean of the School of Nursing. “We’re really thinking about taking care of the nurse, as well as the patient.”

COVID-19 put a strain on health care workers, sometimes forcing them to make difficult decisions, Mickle said. In addition to strenuous hospital settings, nurses helped residents in nursing homes who had to deal with isolation from not being able to see their family members for long stretches.

“We’re trying to get humanity back into it,” Mickle said.

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