Efforts aimed at nurses' work readiness

WILLMAR -- At Meeker McLeod Sibley Community Health Service, it's often a challenge to make sure that new public health nurses have all the skills they need.

WILLMAR -- At Meeker McLeod Sibley Community Health Service, it's often a challenge to make sure that new public health nurses have all the skills they need.

"We need to put thousands and thousands of dollars into training to get them up to speed," said Ann Bajari of the three-county agency.

Improving the work readiness of newly graduated nurses is one of the areas that the University of Minnesota School of Nursing is exploring in a quest to expand the level of cooperation between academic and local communities.

"Our whole agenda is that we're available for partnerships and leveraging the resources of this state. It takes every one of our programs working together to even begin to address the issues ahead of us," said Connie Delaney, dean and professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.

Delaney and Barbara Brandt, assistant vice president for education at the university's Academic Health Center, met recently with about two dozen local nurse leaders to talk about the direction of the nursing profession and how future nurses are trained.


The two have been traveling around the state this summer to hear about local needs and opportunities for cooperative projects.

As nurses play an increasingly prominent role in health care, there's a demand for them to be more highly prepared than ever for entering the work force -- a challenge that the university's School of Nursing is trying to meet by retooling its degree programs.

Over the past three years, a professional master's degree program was developed to streamline the process for post-baccalaureate students to get into the nursing work force. Many of these students are older and more diverse and already possess college degrees in other fields, Delaney said.

A doctor of nursing practice degree program also has been added, allowing nurses to advance their clinical training and skills, with an emphasis on evidence-based practice and specialty areas such as chronic care, midwifery or gerontology.

Altogether, the School of Nursing enrolls about 850 students each year in programs ranging from bachelor's degree to postdoctoral, Delaney said.

As recently as a decade ago, the number of students interested in nursing was dwindling. That has changed as career choices in nursing have exploded and the profession has gained a higher profile, Delaney said.

For every student who's admitted to the university's new professional master's program, three or four are turned away, she said.

One of the biggest challenges, in fact, is finding enough clinical sites where nursing students can gain hands-on skills before they graduate.


"I think you'll see us talking more and more about how do you develop those relationships with health systems and other universities," said Brandt.

She said the School of Nursing also wants to explore how it can better meet workplace needs -- incorporating more basic orientation and special training, for instance, so that newly graduated nurses are more ready to join the work force.

Gary McDowell, administrator of Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar, said his clinic has three mid-level practitioners who have proved to be "huge gifts."

"Whatever you can do to continue and broaden the clinical skills, we would support 100 percent," he said. "We would like to use them more in our clinic so the patient is comfortable with accepting them as an equal provider."

If Minnesota wants to avoid severe shortages of health care professionals, it's critical to have a statewide strategic plan, starting with the education system, Brandt said.

"Some of the work we're doing is starting to pay off," she said. "But it really takes big-picture planning."

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