To address this problem head-on, LSU of Alexandria’s renowned nursing program has partnered with central Louisiana area healthcare providers and six businesses— RoyOMartin, Rapides Regional Medical Center, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital, Central Management, Magnolia Management, and the Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital. So far, the Central Louisiana (CENLA) Nurses for the Future Program has garnered more than $460,000 in private funds and an additional $435,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation to provide scholarships to nursing students who need financial aid and also to hire additional faculty. The effort has already begun to pay off. LSUA’s nursing program has been able to enroll an additional 20 nursing students each semester and it anticipates graduating 55 new RNs by the end of this year (up from 37 graduates in 2020) who will be ready to enter the workforce. These additional health care professionals strengthen the state’s economy and healthcare system.
The Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria views LSUA’s nursing program as important for the community. Nearly 55% of Rapides Regional Medical Center’s nursing staff are graduates of the LSUA nursing program.
“That program alone has elevated the caliber of nurses in our area, and LSUA’s footprint in central Louisiana is huge in supplying highly skilled, qualified nurses needed to care for our community,” said Jason Cobb, Rapides Regional Medical Center CEO. “LSUA nursing graduates consistently meet and exceed the standards of professionalism and practice we expect for our registered nurses at Rapides Regional. They have always proven themselves to be a valuable asset to healthcare at our hospital and in our community.”
LSUA has educated RNs for more than 60 years. Haley Teal is a third-generation LSUA nursing program graduate. Although her grandmother and mother were LSUA nursing school graduates and RNs, she wasn't sure at first if she was cut out for nursing.
“I avoided it for a while and then thought, ‘Why am I not doing that? I like to help people,’” she said. “I’ve always felt called to do something that was helpful for other people, so I said, ‘I’m going to go try it.’”
The Alexandria native graduated in December 2020 and garnered several recognitions for her outstanding GPA and student leadership. While her grandmother applied her LSUA nursing degree to work in maternal health and her mother applied her nursing degree to help patients recover after surgery, Teal is now a labor and delivery nurse at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Alexandria. She is adjusting to working 12-hour shifts at the hospital and a different sleep schedule. However, the rigorous training she received at LSUA and through an externship at her current hospital helped prepare her for the job. She learned critical skills, such as how to pull the correct medicines for multiple patients and how to conduct patient assessments. In her first year of nursing school when COVID-19 began to spread, her professors taught her the new protocols being implemented in hospitals to treat patients.
“They educated us about PPE (personal protective equipment). They would pull us onto the COVID unit. That set us up on what to do,” Teal said.
As new nurses like Teal enter the profession, many leave. Nationally, nurse turnover rates range from 8.8% to 37% depending on geographic location and nursing specialty.
Preventing nurse burnout is a topic often discussed in LSUA nursing student Camaron Cloud’s classes. The Pineville native is well aware of the challenges nurses face in her field and her professors have shared practical advice on how to achieve work-life balance in a stressful profession. The nursing faculty have taught her to look at her career in nursing as a marathon.
“They really prioritize our mental health; they don’t want us to get burned out,” Cloud said.
Cloud is just about to start her marathon while finishing her last semester of nursing school. One of the new scholarships from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is helping her to get to the starting line. She is a first-generation college student, who pays for her education and nursing school supplies on her own. She already has a job lined up as a labor and delivery nurse at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Alexandria.
“It is scary, but I do feel like we’ve been equipped; COVID-19 is out there but there are still people having babies, so there’s still so much joy,” Cloud said. “I’m a new nurse and I get to be able to do all of this. I get to experience the pandemic and give them my ‘brand-newness’ to rub off on them because all of the other nurses are tired. They need us to come in.”
The profession, which is predominantly and historically female, also needs more males, says LSUA nursing student Casey Godfrey from Woodworth, who is one of the few men in the program. Despite being a minority, he has felt welcomed. Through the nursing program’s clinical practice, he has had the opportunity to work in the intensive care unit at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and is considering working in trauma or intensive care after graduation.
“The clinical setting is unbelievable; I’m a kinetic learner and like to learn hands-on, so the clinical setting is great for me,” he said.
About LSUA’s rigorous nursing program and the overall challenges within the profession, he says: “If it was easy, everybody would be a nurse.”
By: Alison Lee Satake, LSU