Area not as hard hit by nursing shortage

Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Joni Wilson, left, and Angela Holland, both nursing students, fold bedding after practicing several skills at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. (Kit Doyle)

In the United States, the average nurse is 47 years old, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Health officials are concerned about the graying of the profession, that too many nurses are retiring and not enough people are replacing them.

There are currently about 118,000 openings for registered nurses nationally and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs top the list of the 10 occupations with the largest projected job growth in the coming years.

Long hours, modest pay and stressful work are some of the reasons not everyone wants to be a nurse. But some people seem born to be nurses.

"Nursing isn't for everyone," said Jeannie Fadler, vice president of patient care services at Saint Francis Medical Center. "You might be able to grasp the science and math, but you also have to have that caring component."

Karen Hendrickson, the vice president and chief nursing officer at Southeast Missouri Hospital, explained that it's in a nurse's nature -- even outside of the profession -- to care for people.

Joni Wilson, left, and Angela Holland, both nursing students, fold bedding after practicing several skills at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. (Kit Doyle)

"Once a nurse, always a nurse," Hendrickson said.

With three avenues to get a nursing degree locally, the nursing shortage is less of a problem in Cape Girardeau than nationally, according to professionals. The Career and Technology Center, Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Nursing and Southeast Missouri Hospital's College of Nursing and Health Sciences all offer training.

Forty-two is the average age of nurses at Cape Girardeau's two main health-care facilities. Southeast Missouri Hospital has more than 500 RNs, and Saint Francis Medical Center maintains about 450.

Southeast Missouri Hospital opened a nursing school in 1928, but it closed within four years as the Great Depression deepened. The hospital reopened the college in 1990 to help alleviate a shortage, according to college president Tonya Buttry.

In Southeast Missouri, a new nurse can expect to earn about $37,000, Buttry said. A nurse who has worked for 10 years can make $48,000.

According to Buttry, there is an increasing number of high school graduates enrolling in the college. She said that 100 percent of people who complete the curriculum are able to get jobs they want.

Donna Johnson, program administrator of the practical nursing program at CTC, said 30 licensed practical nurses ranging in age from 19 to 50 will graduate this fall. The school has graduated 610 LPNs in its 33 years, Johnson said.

Gloria Green, interim chairwoman of the nursing department at Southeast, said 26 of the 35 students who began as freshmen will graduate this month. The school recently changed the requirements for the bachelor's degree so that students are more certain of their career choice, Green said. General education and science requirements are now completed in the first two years and nursing in the final two rather than the other way around.

Emily Greenly, 22, is an LPN at the Chateau Girardeau retirement community. She went to CTC to become an LPN and is studying to become an RN at Southeast Missouri Hospital's college. She said she was the youngest in both schools.

Although the schooling is not easy, Greenly said, she knew she wouldn't have to worry about finding a job and finds the work gratifying.

"I could go into work in a bad mood and come out in a good mood, laughing," she said.

She originally went to Southeast intending eventually to become a lawyer. When she had her first child, she was so impressed by her treatment at the hospital that she decided to become a nurse.

Nursing isn't for everybody. But with the job security, flexibility within the profession and the competitive salary, it's an option to consider.

"It's the patients, the care, the nice compliments from the family. That's what keeps you coming back every day -- to the long hours," said Amy Keistler, director of nursing at Chateau Girardeau.

Perry Guard, a 50-year-old RN at Saint Francis Medical Center, ran a small manufacturing plant until it shut down a few years ago. He became an RN because he enjoyed working with people and wanted something with earning potential.

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