Minnesota West nursing program still going strong
“There’s a huge need for nurses and nursing care workers."
WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Despite the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic and the many changes it prompted for health care occupations, students are still determined to become nurses at Minnesota West Community & Technical College in Worthington.
“We are lucky. We have a little smaller program this year than normal, but that was something we had planned on,” said Dawn Gordon, dean of science and nursing at the college.
As of Aug. 29, Minnesota West had about 64 students in its Licensed Practical Nursing program and another 64 in its Registered Nursing program, which often function as year one and year two of a student’s curriculum, often, but not always, followed by two additional years at a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“We could probably take a few more students based on community and health care work force demands,” Gordon said, pointing out that the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development ranked many health care occupations highly on its “Occupations in Demand” list.
In fact, as of Sept. 13, registered nurses were ranked top on the list, with a median wage of $81,947 per year and a projected 6.6% growth rate. And LPNs weren’t far behind, positioned as the 13th most in-demand occupation, with a $49,697 median wage and a 6.6% projected 10-year growth rate.
Because Minnesota West is a community college, it has a slightly different position than other nursing education institutions, Gordon said. “The mission and vision of a community college is, we’re serving our community, and we could expand” if the community needed it.
“There’s a huge need for nurses and nursing care workers,” she added.
Home health and personal care aides ranked fourth on DEED’s list, with nursing assistance at fifth place.
The world was in a critical crisis of health care workers during the pandemic, Gordon said, and while recent graduations have helped alleviate some of the strain on workplaces such as hospitals and nursing homes, the crisis isn’t over yet.
“We still need additional health care workers” in the region, she pointed out.
Over the years, Minnesota West has graduated 3,000 nurses, and currently its nursing programs are in Worthington, Granite Falls and Pipestone. Its LPN program is now 51 years old, and its RN program just graduated its 25th class.
“So that’s kind of fun for us. It’s fun to see the communities that have our Bluejay nurses sustaining their health care workforce,” Gordon said.
Students who graduate from nursing programs are usually prepared to be generalist nurses, and at Minnesota West, they leave the program with a variety of experiences including acute and chronic care as well as well care, she explained.
Often those experiences come via the college’s clinical partners, who are key to the program’s success and help students get real-life nursing experience that informs their classroom work.
“We’re very fortunate that we have the support of all these areas in the community,” Gordon said. “Those experiences give our students an advantage.”
“The pandemic taught us a lot too,” she said.
Students got really good at putting on and removing personal protective equipment, but will also have a historical moment to look back on.
“The pillar of who we are is caring about the patient,” Gordon said.