Nurses still needed in county

Published 11:59 pm Friday, February 13, 2009

The nursing shortage in the county is not as dire as it was a year ago, but local health care officials said Thursday there is still a pressing need for more nurses.

Nationally, reports show the U.S. is in the midst of a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows. Nationwide, the nursing shortage was estimated at 6 percent in 2000, but is expected to grow to an estimated 29 percent by the year 2020. In Alabama, registered nurse positions are projected to grow at a 2.71 percent average annual rate over the next 10 years, and 31 percent additional nurses will be needed by 2014, according to a report from the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations.

Pat Hill, Mizell Memorial Hospital’s director of nursing, said the hospital was looking at 23 vacancies at this time last year.

“Now, we’re down to seven,” Hill said. “For us, we’re doing a lot better as far as filling our vacancies, but that’s not a global thing. There still is a huge demand for nurses.”

Hill attributes the growth to the “‘grow our own nurses’ program” found at the MacArthur campus of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College.

The college offers degrees for those wishing to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), LPN to registered nurse (RN) or a licensed paramedic to RN.

“Mizell gives scholarships to those who commit to working for our hospital,” she said. “And I think that had a lot to do with our numbers. We started that a few years ago and now we’re reaping the benefits.”

Debra Clark, a nursing instructor at LBWCC, said enrollment was slightly down last year but expects the numbers to rise in the fall as graduating seniors enter college.

“Most people think you have to go to a four-year university to become a nurse,” Clark said. “That’s not true. Our LPN program takes about a year to complete; and then if one wishes, they can continue on with the RN program — all in Opp.”

Clark, who has been a nurse for 32 years, said because she spends time in the hospitals of the county as an instructor, she definitely sees the shortage of nurses.

“All it takes is for you to be a nurse on a floor or a patient in a hospital to tell that there is a shortage — especially at the bedside,” she said. “The reason for that is there are so many different avenues available to nursing graduates.

“Being a nurse doesn’t mean you have to work in a hospital anymore,” she said. “A nurse can be a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. They can work in a doctor’s office, home health, hospice. Whatever their calling is — be it cardiac, OB, the emergency room — the places are endless.

“It just takes a special person to be a nurse,” she said. “The hours are long and sometimes hard, but it’s rewarding. And that’s part of your paycheck — the reward you get from helping someone.”

Aside from the reward of helping people, another reward comes in the pay.

Regularly touted as one of the most financially stable jobs in the U.S., the average salary for a beginning LPN in Covington County is $12 an hour, and top-out pay for a RN is an average of $28 per hour, Hill said.

“The key is finding the area that you love,” she said. “And stay in it.