INA – The face of nursing at Rend Lake College has changed dramatically over the 40-plus years it has educated students to serve the nursing workforce both here at home and outside district boundaries.
Nearly 20 percent of seats in this fall’s practical nursing classrooms at RLC will be filled by men. That’s nearly a seven-fold increase since 1995 and a 100 percent increase from when the college first started offering nursing on the Mt. Vernon Community College Campus more than 40 years ago.
When asked about the surge of male LPN students effectively doubling over the past few years, RLC Interim Director of Nursing Dr. Gynelle Baccus said now is an extremely exciting time to be entering nursing.
“It’s exciting to see more and more men entering the field of nursing,” she said. “... The opportunities and advantages for men entering nursing right now are tremendous.”
She should know. Baccus has had her finger on the pulse of nursing as a registered nurse over the past four decades. The Harrisburg resident has a PhD in higher education, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, and taught for 30 years in the School of Nursing at Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville. She most recently taught part-time for RLC in its CNA and LPN programs until filling in as the current interim director.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has reported that 5.8 percent of nurses across the country are men. Locally, Michelle Andolsek, a compensation specialist in the human resources department at St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital in Mt. Vernon, said 3.6 percent of LPN and RN staff at SMGSI’s Mt. Vernon and Centralia campuses are men. According to Andolsek, current LPNs on the two campuses are all women.
Jonathan Murphy, a student from Pinckneyville, recently attended orientation with his classmates who are the fall crop of new LPN students at RLC. One of the things that motivated Murphy to choose nursing was the extent of quality positions in this area and across the nation. Another was job security.
“I want an occupation where I can improve others for good and be versatile ... work anywhere in the country,” Murphy said. He would like to one day be a flight nurse and is currently completing the paramedic program at RLC.
A 2005 Bernard Hodes Group survey of nearly 500 men in the nursing profession found that the top two reasons they chose to become nurses were to help people and because it is a growth profession with many careers. These reasons are similar to what motivate women to enter nursing, according to BHG. Like Murphy, those surveyed said the major benefits of the nursing profession are being in a stable career with growth and many career paths, and the ability to practice in a variety of geographic areas. Money or salary was fourth, which was surprising to those administering the survey. Baccus said she doesn’t think money is as big of a modern motivator as job security and stability.
Salary was a motivator for Murphy’s classmate, Jonathan Beach, a 36-year-old student from Sandoval. He said his friend works various nursing contracts throughout the year and makes a very good living.
“That was a big inspiration,” he said.
The national median income for registered nurses was $57,000 in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But is that statistic alone enough to persuade more men to look past an alienating stereotype and pursue a career in nursing?
If not, there are mechanisms in motion aimed at changing the public perception of men in the field. A couple of examples: A new journal called “Men in Nursing” launched by the publishers of “American Journal of Nursing,” and Johnson & Johnson’s “Campaign for Nursing’s Future,” now in its seventh year of a multimedia approach to promoting and polishing the image of nursing.
And while all the above is positioned to swell the percentage of men entering the field, it is also engaging a bigger issue.
A nationwide nursing shortage is expected to intensify as aging baby boomers begin to demand more health care. The AACN has identified more than 135,000 RN vacancies (8.1 percent) across the U.S., as of April. That number could reach as high as 500,000 by 2025, according a 2008 report cited by the AACN. The latest federal labor statistics indicate more than a million nurses will be needed for new and replacement positions seven years from now. Factors reported by the AACN that are contributing to the nursing shortage include fewer nurses entering the profession as the average age of the RN climbs, a demand for more nurses to care for an aging U.S. population, insufficient staffing leading to nurses leaving the profession, high turnover and vacancy rates, and a shortage of qualified nursing school faculty restricting program enrollments.
The programs at RLC are maxed out each term – the LPN program at a little more than 80 students out of approximately 200-250 applicants each year. So why not just accept all applicants to better battle the nursing shortage? Baccus explained that a solution to the nursing shortage would take more than just educating more students. Restrictions with clinical availability in the area and training facilities at RLC, as well as finding qualified faculty, all contribute to the college’s ability to admit more students.
“We work with a wide variety of clinical agencies in southern Illinois, but it is a finite number,” Baccus said. Hospitals in McLeansboro, Pinckneyville, Mt. Vernon, Centralia and Herrin currently provide space for RLC students to complete the crucial clinical component for their degree. But even if these sites could open their doors to more students from the college, RLC isn’t the only area community college utilizing clinical agencies for student learning experiences.
“We have to collaborate with clinical agencies and area community colleges to plan for necessary clinical space for our students,” Baccus said.
Construction of a new building on the RLC campus, devoted entirely to the Allied Health Division, has been one of the top priorities on RLC’s Resource Allocation and Management Plan (RAMP) since 2002. The RAMP document is submitted annually for consideration for state capital project funding. The RLC Board of Trustees approved the RAMP for FY2011 at their meeting earlier this month. The new Allied Health Building, estimated at nearly $5.7 million – the college would be responsible for one-fourth or about $1.4 million – is second in line on that document.
While more men entering the field of nursing is encouraging, it is only a small part of shoring up a nursing shortage advancing on multifarious fronts.
“I just read the other day that we are in the worst nursing shortage in 50 years,” Baccus said.
If there was ever a good time for a career change, now would appear to be it. The BHG survey of 500 nurses found that more than half began to consider nursing between the ages of 19 and 30, and 44 percent changed their careers to nursing.
“...When you have a depressed economy, I think people are looking for job stability, good pay and comprehensive benefits,” she said. “Nursing has all of that.”