Jul 28, 2021 - Business

NWA nursing pipeline still strong despite pandemic

Illustration of a nurse's scrubs, stethoscope and mask, standing with no nurse inside them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Despite the pandemic's mental and physical toll on nurses across the country, NWA's nursing pipeline hasn't taken a major hit.

What's happening: While more nurses than usual have left their jobs during the pandemic, the number of people going into nursing isn't significantly slowing down.

  • Washington Regional Medical Center's nursing turnover rate was 10% higher in 2020 than in 2019, chief nursing officer Meredith Green tells Axios. Nurses left for a variety of reasons, such as retirement, burnout, at-home parenting, COVID-19 avoidance, or for travel nursing jobs.
  • NorthWest Arkansas Community College's nursing school enrollment was down slightly to 110 in spring 2021 from the typical 120, according to data from the college. This was in line with the school's overall dip in enrollment.

And yet: The University of Arkansas nursing school can take about 100 students a semester and has stayed full through the pandemic, department chairperson Susan Patton tells Axios.

  • The number of students pursuing pre-nursing at UofA has increased 20% in the past couple of years, Patton says.

Why it matters: The health care industry in NWA continues to grow rapidly — with the recent announcement of more residency slots, an expanded, new children's hospital and a planned new medical school. And it's no secret that community leaders are working to make the region a health care destination.

  • More nurses in specialty areas, such as critical care, will be needed in the future as hospitals bolster care.

Of note: About half of UofA's nursing graduates stay in the region, working at hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities, Patton says.

  • Washington Regional has continued to see significant numbers of new college graduates applying for jobs after each graduation cycle throughout the pandemic, assistant nursing officer Rebecca Cowie tells Axios.

Yes, but: Pandemic fatigue among nurses is not over as the Delta variant and the state's low vaccination rate continue to cause a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

  • Cowie and Green said some turnover has continued this year, particularly right after the winter surge dwindled and nurses had a chance to catch their breath and re-evaluate their careers.
  • "This surge was preventable. We had a vaccine. It's hard to put into words how heartbroken and betrayed we feel," Washington Regional nurse Alex Woods said.

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