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Maryland's nursing program ramps up to address labor shortage

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CBS News Baltimore Live

BALTIMORE (AP) — A nursing accelerator program, conceived during some of the worst months of the coronavirus pandemic to add extra hands in University of Maryland Medical System hospitals, is ramping up and expanding — even as some of the demands of the public health crisis scale back.

That's because the health care workforce in Maryland and elsewhere continues to reel from staff shortages, particularly in the nursing field, where staffing deficits have been slow to recover since COVID-19 swept into the state three years ago.

Hospital administrators say the Academy of Clinical Essentials initiative — which pairs small groups of nursing students with a hospital-based nurse for 12-week intervals each semester — represents one potential solution to the ongoing nursing shortfall. It already has branched into more nursing schools and college departments in Maryland, including at Towson University, Harford Community College and the University of Maryland School of Nursing at Shady Grove.

University of Maryland Medical System Chief Nursing Executive Lisa Rowen said more than two dozen health systems around the U.S. also have inquired about adopting the clinical skills training course for their hospitals.

Rowen developed the idea for a fast-tracked nursing practicum in December 2021 after reading guidance from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing that recommended more experiential learning to prepare students for the workforce. Meanwhile, the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus continued to ravage the state and much of the nation, overwhelming hospitals.

Rowen put two and two together.

"I just thought, what can we do to marry the needs of our students and our hospitals and our staffing needs, and ultimately the profession of nursing?" said Rowen, a registered nurse.

Rowen's innovation assigns students early in their nursing school careers to small groups with a hospital-based clinical instructor, who in turn receives a pay bump for taking trainees under their wing. The groups of four spend full shifts with the nurse and are each assigned to care for a patient, which can entail taking vital signs, helping distribute medication or simply making rounds and asking patients how they're doing.

"There are things they don't teach you in nursing school," said Barbara Bosah, a nurse manager in the thoracic and surgical intermediate care unit and vascular progressive care unit at University of Maryland Medical Center. "You can see the difference in having an ACE (Academy of Clinical Essentials) student and a traditional student."

University of Maryland Medical System, at its peak in June 2022, saw as many as 27% of its bedside nursing staff leave their jobs, on par with the national average, Rowen said. Many of those who left the system cited feeling burned out from the demands of the public health crisis or fears of bringing the deadly virus home to their loved ones. Others left the hospital network for travel nursing jobs with much higher pay. "As nurses left, the burden became more extreme," Rowen recalled. "And it created a cycle of people leaving."

Several health care professions have seen high staff turnover since the start of the pandemic, making access to medical care in Maryland more difficult for some patients and contributing to the long wait times in emergency departments. Statewide, the number of registered nurses declined by about 5% from 2018 to 2021, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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