(photo by Leonna Essner, Staff)
And ever since Jessica Carnell of Matthews was in the eighth grade, she knew she wanted to be nurse.
Both Launius and Carnell will graduate in July from the Sikeston Public Schools Practical Nurse Program. They're two of thousands of nursing students in the United States and Missouri who are helping ease the state and national nursing shortage.
"You don't realize how important nursing is -- at least I didn't -- until you're in the program," said Launius, who would like to be a nurse on the professional rodeo circuit some day. "Some people may think, 'Oh your a nurse. Big deal.' They don't realize what you have to go through to get there and that nurses have to know so much."
Nursing is not an easy program, said Sikeston Public Schools Practical Nurse Program Director Linda A. Boyd, MS, RNBC. About one-third or one-fourth of the students who started actually graduate because the program is tough, she added.
"In the beginning it was really, really difficult," Carnell said. "You think you might have one class, but instead you have all these classes, like four at a time, and you have to keep all of it straight. It gets tense."
It's true nursing students are needed, but without a nursing program, some area students wouldn't have the chance to live their dreams. That's why a recent recommendation for a lengthened accreditation of the Sikeston Public Schools Nurse Program has proven another step forward to addressing the national nursing shortage, which is expected to reach 800,000 nurses by 2020.
"I'm thrilled to be associated with a local nursing program that will help meet the healthcare demands of our hospitals, nursing homes and homecare providers. We're hoping the nurses from our own communities will stay in the area," Boyd said.
What's really nice about receiving the lengthened accreditation is it's encouraging to the faculty and it lets them know they're on the right track, Boyd added. "We have had national peer review and to have that -- them saying you've done a good job -- is really good."
Sikeston's nursing program had an accreditation visit in 1999, Boyd said. At that time they had the recommendation that there would be a written interim report from the school in March 2002.
"We as a faculty sat down and wrote how we had revamped, reorganized and redirected this program. Based on the overall ongoing programming for student learning, they took our accreditation visit that was to be in spring 2004 and extended it to 2007, which was really something to be proud of."
Missouri is currently one of 28 states with major nursing shortages, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition to working nurses, there is a tremendous shortage of nursing faculty, Boyd said. Many times nurses who switch to nurse education do it because there's a professional fulfillment in teaching other nurses, she added.
"We're going to see a greater shortage of faculty. The average age of the working nurse is 43 and the average age of nursing faculty is 51. You can see the impact," Boyd said.
U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 6,000 qualified applicants last year, according to a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Some schools are turning away students because they don't have the faculty, but fortunately, Sikeston hasn't reached that point yet, Boyd said.
A new federal law, the Nursing Reinvestment Act, expands scholarships for student nurses, offers grants for nursing schools and includes loan forgiveness programs for nurses who earn advanced degrees and become teachers.
"I think it's wonderful," Boyd said about the Nursing Reinvestment Act. "I think anything we can to do promote people to enter the nursing profession and any governmental resources available is a win-win situation."
For those interested in entering the nursing program in July, when the next session begins, applications will be taken only between Jan. 6 and Feb. 28. Then pre-entrance exams will take place in March or April. Program selections is made in May.
"One of the things people need to decide when they get into nursing is why they're doing it," Boyd noted. "It has to be more than just the job opportunities and the pay. It needs to be because they truly want to care for others, and they're able to put other people's needs before their own. They also need to have a nurturing side to them. There's nothing worse than a non nurturing nurse."