INA – Kelli Lewis is tired of watching the nurses she helped train take that training to jobs outside Southern Illinois. Next month, with the help of a fellowship program in East Lansing, Mich., she will take a big step in bearing down on the backyard nursing shortage.
Lewis, Chair of the Allied Health Division at Rend Lake College, has been selected to participate in the Visiting Scholar’s Program, March 3-5, at Michigan State University’s College of Education. There, she will collaborate with colleagues from across the nation who converge on the campus. Lewis’ mission: To seek out best practices in nontraditional student retention and bring them back to her division and the RLC nursing program in particular.
“I want to see what they are doing in other places to retain nontraditional students,” she said.
She has a dozen years of experience in the field and holds a master of science in nursing degree from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. The focus of her master’s degree was recruitment and retention. When she came to RLC, she saw an opportunity.
“I realized there is a problem with retention at RLC that is only propitiating the nursing shortage felt here in Southern Illinois and across the country.”
A nurse herself, Lewis spent nine years working in hospitals, four divided between a part-time nursing shift and full-time instruction at RLC, and the past three in her current position. Chairing the Allied Health Division has her overseeing programs in Radiologic Technology, Certified Nursing, Licensed Practical Nursing, Associate Degree Nursing, Early Childhood Education, Emergency Medical Technology, Health Information Technology, Medical Lab Technology, Surgical Technology and more.
Passionate about battling the nursing shortage statewide, nationwide and in the RLC district, Lewis wrote an excerpt last summer stressing the need for retention of nontraditional students. They are students who have been out of high school for more than one to two years, maybe many years. Moreover, they are students who work to pay the bills while going to school, are raising families, and have commitments in the community and various obligations that traditional students often do not have. Lewis feels that, by better meeting their needs, these students will stay in the area to work. But it isn’t easy.
“The issue is not with recruitment,” she said. “We can recruit them because there are jobs ready for them and they know that. The issue is with retention. We have to get creative with retaining them because they have a variety of needs we are not meeting.”
At MSU, Lewis will partner with Andrea Friedus, a graduate student in the anthropology program. Together, they will try to find the answers Lewis is looking for.
Lewis is already working with the Illinois Center for Nursing on developing statistical reports about the statewide shortage of qualified nurses. She sends RLC attrition data each term and takes part in conference calls with ICN administrators twice a month.
She also said nontraditional students have different learning styles than traditional students. It’s something educators must adapt to if these kind of students are to find success in the rigorous program at RLC.
“It’s critical that we work with area hospitals to establish a liaison or partnership where we can borrow or utilize their MSN nurses to teach,” she said. “In working together to meet faculty needs, we can effectively train nursing students. These nurses will then go to work in our area hospitals, thus filling the nursing shortage in our region.”
Of the 60 percent who make it through the LPN and ADN programs on a typical cycle, 90 percent pass their state licensure examinations for registered nurses and 98 percent pass boards for licensed practical nurses. The three-fifths who graduate from RLC’s programs are the example for other programs. They are qualified and able to do the job when they enter the workforce, and employers see through them that RLC’s program is quality-driven, producing a high passage rate on boards and turning out the best nurses in the area.
“I think tailoring our educational approach more toward nontraditional students at the LPN and ADN levels will help attrition while hopefully maintaining our board passage rates,” Lewis explained. “But this is just a piece of the puzzle. The big picture is meeting the needs of this nursing shortage in Southern Illinois, which is our responsibility as a college.”