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U.Va. Medical Center partners with PVCC to expand nursing program in response to shortage

The expanded program will accept 50 additional nursing students per year beginning in spring 2022

<p>Third-year Nursing student Caroline Burke said she is eager to see additional nurses at U.Va. Health, as she has seen the impact of the nursing shortage first-hand.&nbsp;</p>

Third-year Nursing student Caroline Burke said she is eager to see additional nurses at U.Va. Health, as she has seen the impact of the nursing shortage first-hand. 

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Piedmont Virginia Community College announced Oct. 1 its plans to expand its associate degree in nursing program thanks to philanthropic support from an anonymous donor and a contribution from U.Va. Health. CEO of U.Va. Health Wendy Horton said in a phone call interview with The Cavalier Daily that the expanded program aims to tackle the current nationwide nursing staff shortage.

“We got together, and we brainstormed what could be possible,” Horton said. “We know that nationally there's a big shortage, and we wanted to do something for both the state and our local community here.”

A report published in the National Library of Medicine in 2017 projected that there would be a shortage of 510,394 registered nurses in the U.S. by 2030. These effects are felt in Charlottesville as well — the current nurse turnover rate at U.Va. Health is 19.1 percent

Horton explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the nursing shortage, as it has ushered many nurses into early retirement while causing other nurses to leave their jobs because they feel overwhelmed. 

Megan Foley, a clinical transition specialist, explained that many nurses are also leaving their current jobs in search for higher pay. 

“Many have left a full-time career to work for travel and staffing agencies who pay up to twice as much as a hospital does,” Foley said. “This in turn creates a shortage in a hospital. Additionally, the nurses in hospitals are required to do other jobs that are normally not within their job description.” 

Nicole Winkler, dean of Health and Life Sciences at PVCC, is hopeful that the partnership between U.Va. Health and PVCC will help improve the current nursing shortage. 

“U.Va. approached us and asked that we increase our enrollment,” Winkler said. “We responded to the challenge, saying that we also understand that there is a nursing crisis. The best way to do that would be to partner up, and [the University] would provide support along with an anonymous donor.”

The expanded PVCC program is funded by a $400,000 contribution from U.Va. Health over three years, along with a $300,000 anonymous donation. The funding will allow for a new program in Greene County at PVCC’s satellite campus.

“We repurposed some of the spaces out there to create an additional lab,” Winkler said. “The funding from U.Va. allowed us to order all new lab equipment and supplies so that we could effectively start a program out there, and then we're able to also hire two new full-time nursing faculty to support it.”

Winkler explained that having a program in Greene County will allow for increased educational opportunities for those who cannot travel into Charlottesville and northern areas of Virginia. 

Horton said the new expansion will allow for an additional 50 students to join PVCC’s nursing program, increasing total enrollment to 150 nursing students. 

“This cohort, the 50, will graduate in December,” Horton said. “So we'll have some nurses graduating in December, and then a traditional spring graduation as well. And that really helps clinical care and operations.” 

Winkler added that the program will benefit the local community, as many of the PVCC nursing graduates stay in Virginia and accept jobs at U.Va. Health.

“If they don't go to U.Va., they go to Martha Jefferson [Hospital],” Winkler said. “They’re definitely interested in staying in the area.”

As part of the partnership, U.Va. Health agreed to provide clinical rotations to students that are a part of the program. 

Third-year Nursing student Caroline Burke said she is eager to see additional nurses at U.Va. Health, as she has seen the impact of the nursing shortage first-hand. 

“Short staffing on units means the nurses sometimes have up to five patients which, depending on the patient population, is a huge role,” Burke said. “It would mean one nurse for 12 hours handling the entire care of sometimes very complex patients.”

Additionally, Winkler said the COVID-19 pandemic postponed graduation for many nursing students.

“It caused a backup for when we could graduate nurses, because everything was online,” Winkler said. “Hospitals initially responded by not allowing our students to come there during a major part of the COVID crisis … we can't graduate students unless they have a certain number of hours. Some of our nursing students weren't able to graduate until the summer.” 

Winkler estimated that PVCC’s program lost approximately 50 percent of nursing student enrollment due to COVID-19 related issues, but she said she has received ample interest from students regarding the expanded program. 

“A number of people reached out to me,” Winkler said. “I was walking down the hall the other day, and I peeked in on a microbiology class and two people in that class quickly approached me about applying to the spring cohort. They're very excited.”

Winkler said applications for the expanded program opened Oct. 1 and will remain open until Nov. 15.

Burke, who sees the effects of the nursing crisis during her clinical training, is hopeful that more nurses will join U.Va. Health. 

“I’m hopeful that the hospital will be able to get more staff members and take some load off of the nurses who I see day in and day out and are working tirelessly to give patients the best care they can provide,” Burke said.