University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


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UW-Eau Claire Nursing Graduates
Are in Demand

 MAILED:  May 14, 2003

EAU CLAIRE - While the nation's struggling economy may be making it more difficult for some college graduates to land their first jobs, nursing students from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire continue to be in high demand.

"We graduate about 100 students a year from our nursing program," said Lois Taft, associate professor of nursing systems at UW-Eau Claire. "Every graduate who wants to find a job gets one. And this spring is no different."

Not only are UW-Eau Claire nursing graduates getting jobs, they are getting the jobs they want, at the pay they want and with the perks they want, Taft said.

Nicole Helmer, a senior nursing student from Cleveland who will graduate from UW-Eau Claire May 17, applied to two hospitals following the School of Nursing's annual career conference. Within a week, she had invitations to interview with staff on three different floors within each of the hospitals. She received six job offers.

Helmer will begin her nursing career June 23 in the neuroscience area of UW Health in Madison. With a $46,000 starting salary, a $7,000 signing bonus, a comprehensive training program and a promise to pay for her graduate school, Helmer couldn't be happier.

"I've been interested in the neurosciences since a clinical at Luther Hospital here in Eau Claire," Helmer said of what attracted her to the UW Health job. "I want to go to graduate school in Madison so that was a draw. And they offered to pay for graduate school. UW Health is a teaching hospital so I'll learn a lot. They've got updated technology and a lot of things going on that will mean new and interesting experiences."

Helmer's situation is typical of today's nursing graduate, Taft said. "There is so much opportunity in this field and so many different kinds of opportunities. Nursing graduates are writing their own tickets in ways that they could not before. They can decide what specialty area they would like to work in right out of college. Years ago, you had to work your way into those areas. Now specialty areas take new graduates and train them."

The federal Bureau of Health Professions reports that already there are 7 percent fewer registered nurses than are needed, and that by 2020 only seven positions will be filled for every 10 nursing positions available. In Wisconsin, experts predict a shortage of more than 6,500 nurses by 2020.

The nursing shortage has created some problems for nurses - not enough nurses to meet patient needs, for example - but it's also prompting employers to change some of the conditions that have historically frustrated nurses, Taft said. Better pay, more flexible hours, greater ability to make decisions regarding patient care and involving nurses in business decisions are becoming more common as health care organizations compete for quality nurses, she said.

Interest in nursing remains high among UW-Eau Claire students, Taft said. Unfortunately, resources are limited so the School of Nursing can't accept all the qualified students who apply to the program, she said. "We can accept about 40 new students into the program on the Eau Claire campus each semester but more than twice that many apply," Taft said, noting that so far the School of Nursing has received 102 applications for the 40 spots that will be available in the program in the fall. "Typically a student does not apply unless they meet our requirements. So that means we are turning away many, many very well qualified students who would do well as nurses."

The School of Nursing has been spared in the recent state and campus budget cuts. "But it's a tragedy that we can't grow our program given the demand for nurses," Taft said, noting that additional nursing faculty would enable the school to accept more students.

The School of Nursing is looking at creative ways to make more opportunities available without sacrificing the quality of the program, Taft said. For example, the school wants to make it possible for students who are seeking a nursing degree but already have a bachelor's degree in another field to move through the program in 15-18 months instead of the three years it currently takes them.

"We have a fair number of students who have earned a degree in something like biology but then decide they want to be a nurse," Taft said. "If we could move them through more quickly, it would be one way for us to get them into the profession quickly to better respond to the need for nurses. And it would allow us to bring more people into the program."

Taft also said the School of Nursing's satellite program in Marshfield is an example of what can happen when private-public partnerships are formed. St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield underwrites a significant portion of the program, expecting that many of the 24 students who graduate each year will work at the hospital after earning their degrees.

"Nursing is a wonderful profession," Taft said of students' interest in the field. "I've been a nurse for 30 years and I still think it's a privilege to have the opportunity to develop relationships with people who need your help. You can definitely make a difference in someone's life every day. It's an incredible feeling."

Next month, Helmer and her fellow graduates will experience that feeling first-hand thanks to the opportunities provided to them by the School of Nursing.

"I feel very confident going into my first nursing job," Helmer said. "I feel good about what I've learned. And I feel that I got a well-rounded education. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the exact same thing again."

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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 201
(715) 836-4741

Updated: May 14, 2003