Mississippi nursing educators pleased with efforts to help with shortage

Published 7:20 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

The nation needs more nurses, and the sooner the better. The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has taken a proactive role in fighting the national shortage by helping students overcome obstacles to a nursing degree through an innovative collaboration with other Mississippi colleges.

Last June, USM signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pearl River Community College, Jones College, and Alcorn State University, establishing partnerships between the schools designed to create easier pathways for students seeking a degree in nursing.

Seven months into the collaboration, Dr. Lachel Story, Dean of USM’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, is delighted with the results.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We rolled out these options in the fall, and I am thrilled to say that we were able to find placements for all the students who would have previously been denied admission with one of our partners,” she said.

The unprecedented academic partnerships provide qualified applicants to USM’s pre-licensure Bachelor of Science (BSN) in nursing program (i.e., those without a nursing licensure) who would otherwise be delayed an alternative admission pathway to a nursing degree.

Under the new agreements, qualified pre-licensure BSN applicants not accepted into the USM program will be offered an opportunity to apply to Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Practical Nursing (PN) programs at Alcorn, Pearl River, or Jones. Previously, students not accepted into USM’s program could have applied to the other schools but customarily found themselves forced to wait until the following semester.

Brandi Linares became the Director of Nursing Education, Associate Degree Nursing, at PRCC earlier this year. She emphasizes the potential for having access to qualified applicants as a positive aspect of the partnership with USM. PRCC currently has 410 nursing students (LPN and RN) enrolled across 3 campuses – Poplarville, Forrest County and Hancock.

“PRCC is dedicated to supporting our community by increasing the nursing workforce and assisting with the current nursing shortage,” said Linares. “We are working extremely hard to increase our enrollment of applicants at our Poplarville and Forrest County campuses. This partnership provides us with additional qualified applicants to assist us with meeting our community’s needs. The partnership also provides a variety of opportunities for these students to reach their career goals, and ultimately that strengthens our nursing workforce.”

Teresa McDonald, Dean of the School of Health and Human Sciences at Jones College, stresses that the USM partnership helps strengthen the college’s commitment to supporting families in rural communities. Jones currently has 238 nursing students enrolled for the spring 2023 semester.

“This partnership gives students another avenue, impacting the nursing workforce and the livelihood of families,” said McDonald. “Moving forward, more work must be done on a federal and state level giving colleges the opportunities to enhance programs to meet the needs of our healthcare organizations, such as hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.”

A recent Associated Press article suggested that nursing programs at Mississippi’s public universities are turning away hundreds of potential students every year because of insufficient faculty sizes. The article further stated that students are being turned away amid a nursing shortage that is exacerbating poor health outcomes in the state.

Story points out that USM’s program is required to maintain a 1:15 faculty/student ratio by accreditation standards.

“We make every effort to maximize that ratio so we can ensure that we admit every qualified student possible,” she said. “Our embedded clinical faculty is one such way we have maintained our enrollment capacity. Our hospital partners have dedicated a Registered Nurse who meets accreditation requirements to faculty to serve as the clinical instructor for our students in their faculty. This allows for us to include them in our faculty count.”

Story goes on to note that the University’s enrollment numbers for the pre-license BSN program in the fall 2022 semester return to pre-COVID numbers, indicating that these types of efforts are working.

Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession. Records show there are nearly 4.5 million registered nurses with active licenses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says of those, only 72% percent are employed as RNs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country will need more than 203,000 new registered nurses every year through 2026 to fill the gap in care left by a retiring workforce. The average age of a nurse right now is 51.

The U.S. nursing crisis has been building for some time. Steps, like the partnership initiative USM launched with sister schools, are being taken at the state and federal levels to combat the shortage. A little more than 500 students are currently enrolled in undergraduate and graduate nursing programs at USM.

“We did not get here overnight, and we will not turn this around overnight,” said Story. “The issue is complicated and addressing one area can cause issues in other areas. Additionally, we must focus on all of the contributing factors in order to make a measurable impact. We all must do our part to contribute to the solution through innovative strategies like the partnerships we have built with our sister institutions and our clinical partners.”

Added McDonald: “We must not repeat the past. We must continue to do our part in making a positive impact by finding creative ways to make a difference. We are excited about the future.”