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Remedies for Health Care Shortages: Prescriptions for Success

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by Susan HerefordRADIOGRAPHYtricia meeker with patient.Adam Mellott will earn his radiography degree from PCC at the end of the summer and then plans to travel. No, he is not taking the requisite trip to Europe before getting on with real work. Mellott plans to become a traveling radiographer. The demand for radiographers across the country is so great that licensed radiographers are able to travel from one hospital to another, earning high wages, receiving housing, food and car allowances, and help with relocation."It’s a great program,"says Mellott, smiling widely, from the radiography department at St.Vincent’s hospital, where he is currently working on-site in the radiography department at the hospital. The on-site, practical experience is an accreditation requirement. Students spend two and three days a week, respectively, during the first and second year of the program, at healthcare facilities. The rest of the time, they are in classes on the Sylvania Campus. The program is not easy, Mellott says, but he and other students believe they’ve found the dream vocation. "You’re learning from day one,"he says. "It’s a hands-on experience and the teachers have so much knowledge."If PCC and partner health organizations are successful in their efforts to grow the program and recruit new students, the opportunity could be there for others.Fourteen area healthcare facilities have agreed to fund the program’s expansion, to the tune of $160,000. The college will receive $84,000 this school year and the remainder the following year to hire additional faculty. As a result of the partnership, four more facilities have agreed to open their sites to PCC radiography students for their clinical education. The program, which currently serves 36 students, will now be able to expand to 48 students for the 2002-03 school year."Across the country there’s a shortage of allied health professionals, with medical imaging being the most acute,"said John Ferguson, director of diagnostic imaging for Portland Adventist Medical Center. "On the West Coast, there is a 17 percent shortage. "I think it’s great that the hospitals and college are working together to solve this problem. It’s a good start."Data from the Oregon Workforce Investment Board shows a severe shortage across the state of radiographers. In the Portland area alone, it is expected that there will be 102 vacant positions by 2004. Debbie Biddle, the director of Medical Imaging for PCC, says, "We are excited about the opportunity to expand our program at a time when many students are looking for a career with good job prospects and our hospital partners have a large need for Radiographers. Everybody wins."Mellott certainly feels like a winner. He had earned a degree in construction technology from Lane Community College, spent 11 years in the business before a serious injury forced him to train for a new occupation. "I went in for multiple broken bones and it (radiography) looked fun and interesting,"he says. He began researching the field and visited a number of hospitals, which led him to the PCC Radiography program.Brian Brogan, a first-year student also at St. Vincent’s hospital in a clinical experience, is also happy he found the program. "You are working alongside the doctors from the get-go. I have a great sense pride. You are part of a team. There are so many opportunities."As for Mellott, his opportunities begin at the end of the summer. He will graduate in August and plans to take his licensing exam soon after. He and his wife will make San Francisco their first stop. Then, on to Hawaii, he says, "following the sun."NURSINGThis June, 75 nursing students graduated from the PCC Nursing program and are ready for work. The Sylvania Campus program wants to increase its graduates and thinks it has found a way. A proposal on the table this summer to area hospitals should help. Nursing Director Julia Emblen said discussions are at an early stage, but believes the proposal has merit and hopes to see it implemented.Emblen is calling it the "adopt-a-student"program. "Staff nurses, local area nurses, would each adopt a student,"she said. "I think this would be of some interest. We would start with a pilot group of five to 10 nursing students, then keep expanding. This is one way in which we might develop partnerships with hospitals,"to increase the number of graduates.Nursing ShortageThe nation’s nursing shortage has brought community college nursing programs into the spotlight as they search ways boost the numbers. It is needed. Health planners estimate that by the 2010, one in five nursing jobs in Oregon will go unfilled. Many health care organizations are turning to community colleges to help remedy the shortage. In fact, it is one of the top initiatives of the American Association of Community Colleges.Although PCC’s nursing graduation rates have notched up to 75 this year, compared to 71 in 2001 and 67 in 2000, it is not enough, explained Emblen. However, the challenges of expanding are multifold, including the recruitment of qualified students and nursing faculty; the shortage of lab and classroom space; and abbreviated resources for costly programs such as nursing, due to state budget cuts in the last three legislative sessions. Adopt a StudentEmblen said they are forwarding the "adopt a student"proposal to area hospitals, including Legacy Health Systems, St. Vincent’s, Kaiser and "any area hospitals that would be willing to partner in this way with us."She said it is possible to boost the numbers through a sharing of resources and facilities. Specifically, nurses with bachelor’s degrees would add a teaching and mentoring component to their job duties.Proposal specifics call for PCC to fund the staff nurse orientation, plus provide eight hours of tuition credit for participating nurses. The assignment would last for one year. Organizers hope the program will start this fall, or at the latest, winter term.Cindy Evans, director of Patient Care Services at Legacy Health System, sees several benefits. Not only would hospitals be able to recruit more nurses, but the relationship between student nurses and working nurses would also be strengthened. This ultimately would cut down on new employee orientation costs because students who participate will be more job-ready and likely to hire on at the hospital where they studied. "We are very interested in this,"said Evans. "We are interested in forging all kinds of partnership relationships to increase the number of graduates. What is appealing about the adopt-a-student program is that the student will be with the same nurse for more than one term and that will give the nurse a mentoring relationship."Evans also said the proposal addresses the difficulty of attracting nursing faculty due to competitive pay issues. "The nurse who works with the PCC student would satisfy the instructor duties."PCC a longtime partner with local hospitalsPCC’s current training system, in partnership with area hospitals, has been in place for more? almost 30 years. Students rotate through approximately six different clinical settings during their two years of study while spending class and laboratory time on the Sylvania Campus. Most have had assignments in several hospitals or health care facilities by the time they graduate. The new proposal would not abandon this arrangement, merely add another option to the current model. Evans, of Legacy, said the new proposal would help cut down on scheduling, "We have eight schools of nursing competing for student placement in the area."A visit to one of the sites produced a first-hand view of the clinical experiences PCC students have. Tricia Meeker, a first year PCC nursing student this spring, spent her final rotation of the year at the Providence Child Center, a place where onl

y the most profoundly disabled children get help. "I spent six weeks there,"said the 28-year-old student nurse. "Most of the children there don’t make progress. The goal is to provide comfort care."She admitted that it was particularly difficult the first two weeks. "But as time went by, it did get easier. I realized that these children have needs, but they are just not able to communicate them,"she said.With the proposed pilot project, Legacy sees a bright future with more benefits than disadvantages. "We all have to work together to increase the numbers of students in order to increase patient care ? the opportunity to grow one another; it could be a win-win situation."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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