Health care providers and schools in Bartholomew County are working together to lay out stepping stones to create career pathways for nurses.

It’s in response to a national nursing shortage that has consequences for patients and health-care providers alike, according to the American Nurses Association.

For nurses, fewer co-workers means longer hours under stressful conditions, which can result in fatigue, injury and job dissatisfaction, the association states on its website.

Those conditions can result in nurses becoming more prone to making mistakes and medical errors regarding their patients, according to the association.

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Columbus’ proximity to larger cities, as well as diversity in its business, economic, cultural and social landscapes, are factors working in the favor of Columbus Regional Hospital when it comes to recruiting medical professionals, Columbus Regional Hospital spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue said.

But in local physician offices, ancillary care sites, homes for the aged and other places where nurses are needed, “there is definitely a healthcare worker shortage across the board,” said Melissa Wilson, academic advisor for the IU School of Nursing at the IUPUC campus.

Wilson was one of two presenters who spoke on health care opportunities during Thursday’s Women’s Expo at FairOaks Mall.

Reasons for the nursing shortage include retiring baby boomers, the rising incidence of chronic disease, an aging nursing workforce and the limited capacity of nursing schools, numerous studies have concluded.

Higher demand also is generated by the Affordable Care Act, which provided health care coverage to almost 590,000 Hoosiers in the past three years, Wilson said.

In addition, Medicaid enrollment in Indiana at the end of last year was almost 34 percent higher than at the end of 2013, according to government statistics.

Recruitment efforts take place at job fairs and other events, such as Thursday’s Women’s Expo, DeClue said.

Hospital representatives also frequently go into the high schools to talk with students about becoming a certified nursing assistant after graduation, said Debbie George, manager of talent acquisition for Columbus Regional Health, who also attended Thursday’s event.

Between four and 12 weeks of instruction and training are required to become a CNA, according to the American Red Cross.

Other certified entry-level jobs include medical, emergency room, phlebotomy and physical therapy technicians, George and Wilson said.

Certification provides experience that begins opening doors in the medical profession, as well as a steady paycheck and additional money for further educational advancement, George said.

“There are plenty of jobs available with competitive wages and growth opportunities in these entry-level positions,” Wilson said.

The next step is usually enrolling in a two-year Associate of Science Nursing program, George said.

The hospital is constantly monitoring supply and demand data, as well as cross-referencing nursing students, to determine where they might fit in best, DeClue said.

When a student is considering an ASN program, that’s when some begin to get cold feet, Wilson said.

“A lot say they just don’t know if they can handle cleaning up and having sick people around,” Wilson said. “But this profession is so much more than bedside nursing.”

Although there is a large need for ASN nurses, students who complete the two-year program receive strong encouragement and incentives to go after a four-year bachelor of science degree in nursing, Wilson said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million vacancies will emerge for registered nurses over the next five years.

“That (four-year) degree is the foundation for so many more opportunities, such as management, office and teaching,” Wilson said. “It gives you options other than being a bedside nurse for the next 30 years.”

Besides registered nurses, George said there is a huge demand for specialty nurses to work in specific areas such as oncology and geriatrics.

Once a student gets a four-year nursing degree, that’s when employers become even more competitive, Wilson said.

Online advertisements show numerous healthcare providers across the nation promising sign-up bonuses of $5,000 to $10,000.

DeClue declined to say whether Columbus Regional Hospital offers such bonuses.

While George also didn’t provide specifics, she said the level of incentives varies from position to position.

Although cash bonuses are certainly one type of incentive, George says it’s more important to find recruits with a passion to help others.

“Most people who decide on health care have a personal story, or a story about a family member, that sparked that passion,” George said.

What local nursing jobs pay

Average annual salaries for nursing professions in Columbus

Licensed practical nurse: $37,250

Registered nurse: $57,080

Nurse practitioner: $80,910

Source: Nurse Salary Guide website

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Highest paying nursing jobs

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
  • General Nurse Practitioner
  • Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
  • Pain Management Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Informatics Nurse

Source: Nurse.org

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.