Fostering Workforce Development through Meaningful Experiences: Pathways to a Nursing Degree Program

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 4:00 PM

Erin M. Robinson, EdD, MSN, RN1
Catherine G. Tagher, EdD, MSN, RN, APRN1
Julie Hart, MSN, BSN, RN, CNE2
Adele DiMinno, MSN, BSN, BSW, RN3
Marilyn Schleyer, PhD, ARNP4
(1)Department of Nursing, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY, USA
(2)Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY, USA
(3)Northern Kentucky University, Cincinnai, OH, USA
(4)Northern Kentucky University, Bellevue, KY, USA

The RN workforce is projected to grow from 2.71 million in 2012 to 3.24 million in 2022, creating a 19% increase in the need for nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 525,000 replacement nurses in the healthcare workforce generating over one million nursing jobs by 2022 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). As the demand for nurses increases, the profession of nursing must employ innovative approaches to foster an interest in a nursing career. 

In response to the national healthcare mandate, the program Pathways to Nursing (PTN) was started in 2006.  The PTN was an innovative partnership between the area healthcare agencies, county schools, and the regional university to expose high school students to the profession of nursing.  In 2009 the program was expanded to include middle school students and was renamed Pathways to a Nursing Degree (PTND).  The expanded program included two unique learning opportunities: (a) Nurse Summer Camp for high school students, and (b) Nurse Career Day for middle school students.  Currently, the program is   a partnership between a regional university and the area regional medical center. 

Summer camp high school participants spend two days on the university campus, including an overnight in the dorms and an additional two days in shadowing experiences with registered nurses in a myriad of specialties throughout the medical center.  While the high school students are on campus they engage in a variety of nursing related activities, and a “meet and greet” with academic advisors about the requirements for the baccalaureate nursing program.  They participate in the skills lab performing skills such as vital signs, tube feedings, IV flushes, and dressing application.  Additionally, students participate in the assessment of a high fidelity simulator and have the opportunity to play a role in a faculty led simulated code.  Additionally, students engage in experiential opportunities such as the cadaver lab, a medical therapy dog, the digital planetarium, and campus wellness.

Experiential learning continues at the regional medical center through the shadowing experience.  Eight shadowing opportunities are provided to the students. These opportunities include experiences in medical-surgical areas, the emergency department, labor and delivery, and surgery.

Based on program exit surveys from 2009 supported by k-12 educational literature, PTND faculty identified that middle school students, especially “at risk” students who become involved with collegiate activities and opportunities as early as 6th grade are better prepared for future career selections.   The measured outcomes from college readiness programs implemented in the middle school grades include academic motivation, increased classroom participation, willingness to take on more work, and improved career maturity levels (Standing, Judkins, Keller, & Shimshak, 2008).

Therefore, a second educational component was created for 6th, 7th and 8th graders entitled Nurse Career Day. This component provides middle school students a one day on campus exposure to the profession of nursing. According to Kenny, Blustein, Haase, Jackson, and Perry (2006), students entering high school with previous exposure to career planning tend to place a higher value on their education, thus becoming more engaged in the schooling process which ultimately impacts career choices.

Based upon the standards established within the national GEAR UP model, the PTND program partnered with area middle schools demonstrating 50 percent or greater student population on free or reduced lunch to bring middle school students to campus for a Nurse Career Day.  While on campus the students participate in a skills lab, an assessment of a high fidelity simulator, and interactive scavenger hunt. Additionally, students are given the opportunity to meet with an advisor regarding the academic requirements needed in high school to be successful in nursing.

Since 2009 the PTND program has had contact with 190 high school students through Summer Camp and 59 middle school students through Nurse Career Days.  Through program exit surveys students indicate an overall positive experience.  For both middle and high school students the number one reason for what influences their interest in a career in nursing is attending PTND camp or career days.  The second highest category for influencing their interest in nursing is their parents and the third, which is meaningful from a health provider stand point, is a "health issue that either you or someone else has dealt with".

Of those students completing the exit survey, both middle and high school students indicate they plan to attend a four year college. High school students identified money as an obstacle to higher education. The middle school students did not identify any obstacles for attending college.  Because middle school students did not identify any obstacles, this becomes a pivotal time for college and career planning. 

Data collected also demonstrate that the majority of both middle and high school students attending the PTND program reported that no immediate family members are nurses.  Through the PTND program students are exposed to many meaningful aspects of modeling and role-modeling that are associated with professional nursing behaviors.  According to Erickson (2014), role modeling is often embedded in nurturing and facilitative behaviors.  In a proactive attempt to contribute to a strong nursing work force it is important to give students an image of the nursing profession early in their educational development.  Additionally, connecting with students early allows for a sense of affiliation thereby contributing to the perception that he or she has some control over the direction of his or her life (Erikson, 2014; Frisch & Bowman, 2011).  These connections foster students’ transformations in the direction of their hopes and dreams.  Parse believed that nurses, in their presence with others, help to support clarification of this new direction (Parse, 1999).

The Pathways to a Nursing Degree program is the focus of a longitudinal study which is investigating the impact of the program on the selection of a nursing or healthcare career by those students who have attended this program.  Longitudinal data will begin to be collected in the Spring of 2015.  Although longitudinal data is pending, the current program evaluation data supports the continuation of this unique opportunity.