Nurses in Demand in Rural Areas

Nurses in Demand in Rural Areas

The Bismarck

August 10, 2009

Location plays a role in nursing shortages.

Rural areas are not as fortunate in finding new hires as the more urban areas.

“The state has a maldistribution” of nurses, said Jan Kamphuis, Medcenter One chief nursing officer.

Cities like Bismarck tend to be well staffed, while rural towns are lacking help. The national economy is magnifying this disparity as some facilities in metropolitan areas across the country are cutting jobs or instituting a hiring freeze.

The recession has delayed retirements and increased interest in nursing from people changing careers, said Suzie McShane, director of the Bismarck State College nursing program, a two-year nursing program. Add in staff cuts at some healthcare facilities and nurses and recent nursing graduates are faced with a more competitive job market.

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Usually, all the nursing graduates from the local nursing programs who pass the certification exam have jobs. Many though, choose to work in the state’s larger communities.

Most of North Dakota is considered a medically underserved area, according to the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health biennial North Dakota Nursing Needs Study. There are 41 underserved areas, and four-fifths of the counties have at least a partial health professional shortage, according to the latest study released in 2007.

It’s hard to attract new nurses to the smaller communities because new nurses want to work in larger facilities. Most of the graduates who do go to rural communities to work usually have ties to the community, such as family, said McShane.

“It (the program) fills the need to grow our own,” McShane said.

Until 2004, nurses needed a four-year degree to work in North Dakota. The law was changed in hopes of filling the need for nurses in rural communities. Proponents thought, “If there was a two-year nursing program, we’d get more people and fill vacancies” in rural areas, Kamphuis said. “But guess what? They are not going there.”

The BSC nursing program graduated 15 students in May. Most of those graduates now work in Bismarck. Out of the 15 graduates, 10 work in Bismarck, two work out of state, two work in rural communities and one graduate’s work location is unknown, according to statistics provided by McShane.

A month after graduation, about a third of the graduates from the University of Mary were still looking for work, said Glenda Reemtz, department chair of the University of Mary nursing program. Six of the university’s graduates had job offers from the Mayo Clinic pulled after Mayo closed a hospital.

“I think more are starting to feel it,” Reemtz said.

In tough economic times, nurses who work part-time tend to switch to full-time, Kamphuis said. This can reduce the number of open positions, and create less reliance on traveling nurses and agencies to fill positions, Kamphuis said.

The change in part-time and full-time status is like an economic barometer.

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“When the economy is down (nurses) go full-time,” said Linda Knodel, chief nursing officer at St. Alexius Medical Center. “When the economy is up, they go part-time.”

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