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Mid-South nursing students are motivated and ready to fill hospital staffing shortages

Students at Southwest Tennessee Community College say the pandemic has only motivated them more to become nurses.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A shortage of nurses across the nation is a top concern for the American Nurses Association which recently called on the Department of Health to declare the shortage a national crisis citing overwhelmed health systems.

The need for nurses is being felt in the Mid-South. Methodist Le Bonheur, Baptist and St. Francis have offered bonuses in an effort to recruit more nurses.

In August, Methodist Le Bonheur offered $20,000 to registered nurses to stay two years, with the first half of the money paid out in September. 

With the strain of staffing comes an opportunity for nursing students like Max Prophet, who prior to the pandemic was drawn to the career of nursing.

“What attracted me to nursing is just the caregiving compassion aspect of it," he said.

Prophet is one of the students preparing to graduate this December from Southwest Tennessee Community College and who is eager to make a mark in the field.

“The pandemic has only stressed that even more," Prophet said.

During the pandemic, Prophet interned inside local intensive care units, seeing the impact of COVID-19 first-hand.

“Being able to comfort people and educate people about COVID, helping them get better work through that, it’s just only made my desire to become a nurse even more," he said.

Jazzlyn Lemdani, another student at Southwest preparing to graduate, also spent time in the ICU as an intern.

“I have witnessed a lot of stuff that I probably would never experienced and it shows just how much more that a nurse is willing to give," she said.

The strain inside the ICU was one part Prophet said he witnessed.

“I could see it in the hospital, being an intern, seeing how people are understaffed and the opportunities that are available," he said.

Dr. Sheila Bouie, department head of the Southwest's nursing department, said for the last several years 85-90% of students have a job offer before they graduate, a testament to the program and the students, she said.

 “I think that one of the things that I find extremely exciting right now is that they are ready to go headfirst," she said. "They have no qualms about going into the environment, as it is, and they are ready to be changemakers. They are ready to hit the ground running.”

During the pandemic and school closures, Dr. Bouie said the department and students had to learn to adapt to keep it going.

She says there's also been an effort to emphasize self-care as current nurses feel the burn out of the pandemic.

“We lead into that message with the idea that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others," she said.

Dr. Bouie also noted that the program is a majority minority students and that an extra emphasis is needed to prevent that burn out.

“We are used to shouldering the brunt of a whole lot of stressors at the same time and so right now we are making a pointed effort to say you have to step back, ask for help and put some things on the side of the plate," she said.

At the height of the pandemic, higher education took a hit in enrollment, across the country and at Southwest.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that community colleges saw an 11.6% dip in enrollment for Spring 2021.

“As we’re coming out of the pandemic, we are seeing more interest," Dr. Bouie said.

In spite of the challenges due to the high demand for nurses, both Lemdani and Prophet said they are prepared and ready.

“I am excited that there’s always a place for a nurse but that there’s more job opportunities," Lemdani said. "It makes me thankful that I chose Southwest and that I chose nursing.”