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Broward Health Clinical Nurse Educator Nicole Puleo, right, and Paul Brattan, back right, also a Broward Health Clinical Nurse Educator, train nurses to work in the ICU as part of the critical care internship program at the ‘hospital.

As the shortage of nurses has worsened due to the pandemic, hospitals in South Florida are implementing creative ways to mentor and train nurses.

The pandemic has exacerbated the nursing shortage as many nurses opted for lucrative traveling nursing jobs or retired. At the same time, enrollment in nursing schools has not kept up with demand, which has increased due to the aging US population. (The number of U.S. residents age 65 and older is expected to reach 82 million by 2030, up from 54 million in 2021.)

The result: Registered nursing (RN) is among the top occupations in terms of job growth through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections 2019-2029. The Bureau projects 175,900 openings for RNs each year through 2029.

Nursing Scholarship Program at Memorial

The Memorial Healthcare System launched a nursing scholarship in August 2021 to train nurses to work in its 13 specialty areas, which include surgery, critical care, and oncology.

“Nationally, the hospital’s specialty areas are the most complex places, where the sickest patients need care and where we had the most vacancies,” said Maggie Hansen, vice- Senior President and Chief Nursing Officer at Memorial Healthcare in Broward, which operates six hospitals, urgent care centers, a retirement home and has 14,000 full-time employees. “With so many baby boomers retiring and taking all of that knowledge and skill out of the workforce, it created an experience complexity gap that we needed to fill.”

Due to a competitive market for hiring nurses, Memorial created the Nursing Scholarship Program to recruit nurses and develop its employees.

“If we don’t prepare them to continue growing and entering these new areas of practice, we may not end up with the right skill level to be able to provide the care our patients need,” said Hansen.

Practical coaching, simulation training

The program includes classroom instruction, hands-on coaching with a specialist clinical educator, seminars, participation in evidence-based projects, and simulation training. Nurses can then take the national certification exam in their specialty.

Memorial has 99 nurses studying under the year-long program, which began with staggered cohorts at all six Memorial hospitals. The first cohort will graduate in August 2022 with six nurses.

The fellowship program will be expanded to include training for clinical educators and infection control practitioners.

“Clinical educators, who teach nurses, are retiring, so we need to teach nurses to be educators,” Hansen said. “Additionally, due to the pandemic, we have noted a need for infection control practitioners, who are typically nurses. They are very difficult to find. There’s not enough. During the pandemic, this became very evident because our lives depended on it.

“It’s a horrible thing we’re going through with a shortage of nurses, but it certainly gives us the opportunity to problem solve and we like that,” Hansen added.

Memorial also created the Nursing Emeritus program, which began in January. Nurses who retired from Memorial within the past three years can return part-time to train new specialist nurses.

“These are retired nurses who are actually missing their work families and want to come back, but not full-time,” Hansen said. “They want to share their knowledge and skills with new nurses. With all the baby boomers retiring, the nursing workforce will mostly be made up of new nurses. The nurse emeritus can be their mentor and guide them to the next step in their career.

Broward Health Critical Care Internship Program

Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale has also created initiatives to address the nursing shortage.

“We’ve had a really hard time with COVID,” said Nicole Puleo, clinical specialist in Broward Health’s critical care department. “We had a huge shortage of critical care nurses, especially with many staff leaving for lucrative travel nursing contracts. Because of this and the retirement of nurses due to COVID, we started to think outside the box of what we could do to help recruit new staff and quickly.

In July 2021, Broward Health launched its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Internship Program to train new nurses for the ICU. The 30-week program includes instruction, simulation lab learning, clinical practice, presentations, and hands-on training. The program also included a critical care course from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

breech birth simulation center
Memorial Healthcare System Nursing Fellowship Program students observe a simulated breech birth. Launched in August 2021 to address the growing nursing shortage, the one-year program prepares nurses to work in specialist areas through classroom instruction, hands-on coaching and simulation training.

Nine nurses graduated from the program in February, Puleo said. The second group of seven nurses will graduate in July, while a third group will begin the program.

“We were getting new grads fresh out of school and we had to figure out how to educate them and prepare them for this type of intensive care unit,” Puleo said. “It makes new nurses competent to care for a patient in intensive care.

“Going into intensive care is a specialty, so they need to elevate their care and critical thinking in order to care for these patients,” Puleo added. “Typically, intensive care patients need ventilatory support, such as a respirator or ventilator, if they are not breathing on their own. They just need a higher level of care, monitoring, and a lot more work.

The critical care program offers a support group, with Puleo and fellow Broward Health clinical specialist Paul Bratton meeting with new nurses weekly for the first six months and providing regular follow-up during the first year.

“We want to make sure that any nurse entering nursing feels supported and knows they have someone to turn to when they have questions,” Puleo said. “That they don’t feel alone and also have the opportunity to have a mentor.”