Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian

Michigan has a serious nursing shortage, and burnout is higher than ever. This creative approach could attract more people to the profession.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—As hospital beds and care facilities fill up, nurses on the clock are tasked to do more with less. The shortage of nurses in Michigan has been spotlighted by spikes in COVID-19, but the problem isn’t new.

Michigan has fewer nurses as a part of its population than all of its neighboring states, according to the Nurses Journal. Perhaps most worryingly, more than one of every five registered nurses isn’t working in the profession. But reinforcements could be on the way.  

“Most hospitals are in somewhat of a crisis situation right now because they just don’t have enough nurses with a [bachelor of science in nursing] to meet current needs, especially in rural parts of the state,” Nick Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, told The ‘Gander. “So we believe community colleges should be able to offer those degrees.”

Tuesday, Nov. 30, on the floor of the Michigan House Education Committee, state Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City) made the case for why his bill to let community colleges offer nursing degrees should pass through committee.

“This allows nurses to gain experience close to their local communities or within their local communities, and then go on to serve those communities,” Roth said. 

The bill has support from different wings of the political spectrum and from all over the state. Reps. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit) and Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) signed onto the proposed legislation. The bill lingers in committee, meaning that to pass, it will have to receive a majority vote there and on the House and Senate floor before going to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Roth said he’s been approached by medical experts in northern Michigan pleading that they needs more nurses. Nursing school follows its own four-year track, and in Michigan, nursing bachelor’s degrees are only conferred by four-year accredited universities. These programs often leech concentrations of nurses away from rural areas that aren’t home to big-time schools, Roth said. 

“Grand Traverse County is getting older and we need nurses as we are faced with an aging population,” Roth said. “We also continue to fight COVID-19. This is something we need, and all areas of the state will stand to benefit.”

Meanwhile, health care shortages in northern Michigan continue to pile up. Interlochen Public Radio reported that nurse aids are leaving senior care facilities at an astounding rate, over pay and working conditions, and hospitals have had to house elderly patients for longer periods of time because auxiliary facilities don’t have staff to care for them. Two facilities in Traverse City recently closed. 

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The New Normal

COVID-19 has shook up a lot more than just the health care field. 

As community colleges hope to step into bigger shoes of four-year degree programs—as they’ve already done in certain fields—they’re also examining how they do business and make their programs more accessible to the general population.

“Teaching online is different. Content might be the same, but we have to adjust or create new ways to deliver content,” Mark DeLonge, an instructional technology specialist at Northern Michigan Community College, said in an NMCC publication about switching to online learning. “We can’t just recreate what (instructors) do face to face.”

Some programs, Hansen said, can be easily tailored to an online learning environment. Hosting those programs permanently online can also make them more accessible, opening the doors for prospective students who live hours away from one of Michigan’s 28 community colleges.

But other programs, in hands-on trades like culinary arts or machinery, might not transition as well, Hansen said. 

“We’re teaching a lot of these applied programs,” Hansen said.

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Reconnecting Later in Life

Michigan boasts one of the nation’s most comprehensive programs for adult education, centered around its community colleges. Michigan Reconnect, launched in February, offers free tuition to Michigan adults over the age of 25 to attend community colleges in their district. Out-of-district students can qualify for a reduced rate that covers the difference between in-district and out-of-district costs. 

The state’s average cost for community colleges is already the lowest in the Midwest.

If community colleges are permitted to teach nursing, the state could fast-track a swell of nurses to accompany an aging population.

“Students are always looking forward to the best opportunity for them,” Hansen said.

Opposition to community colleges’ offering nursing degrees comes by way of traditional four-year programs, Hansen said, which are currently licensed to award BSNs. 

Hansen said he doesn’t view nursing school as a competition. Instead, he thinks that widening the aperture of nursing programs would bring in more students who wouldn’t consider or be able to attend traditional four-year universities, like those in rural areas and those with child care responsibilities.

“We’re not really trying to take their students,” Hansen said. “We’re just trying to capture a whole another set of students that otherwise wouldn’t have these opportunities.”

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