Maricopa County program to give nursing students hands-on experience at medical facilities

Jan 30, 2022, 6:30 AM

(File Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)...

(File Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

(File Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County announced Thursday the launch of a pilot program that will provide nursing students with hands-on experience in a professional setting prior to graduation so they can thrive in the industry immediately amid a staffing shortage.

The pilot program will pair 50 senior nursing students one-on-one with a nurse preceptor in environments like a hospital or other community entities for the last six weeks of their schooling, the county said in a press release.

The county said there were 5,685 registered nurse vacancies in Maricopa County last April, a 40% jump from 2020. It is expected the shortage will continue due to high burnout from the pandemic and retirements.

“Having a nursing shortage during a pandemic is a true crisis, and no one entity can solve it alone,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates of District 3 said in the release.

“However, we’ve identified one area where we think we can make a difference, and that’s in making sure more nurses are ready to hire straight out of school.”

Robin Schaeffer, pilot project manager, said new graduate nurses without hands-on clinical experiences can also feel “unprepared for and overwhelmed by their first job.”

“Many choose to leave the profession permanently within two years of graduation,” Schaeffer said. “Since the pandemic hit, hands-on clinical experiences and practice readiness have decreased and onboarding time of (new graduate nurse) hires has increased.

“This comes at a significant financial cost and adds additional stress to the current staff. It’s just not sustainable.”

Funding for the program comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the release, and the county said it is partnering with nursing schools and employers to create and implement the hands-on experience.

The county said the hope of the program is to not only grow the pool of nurses ready to hire upon graduation but keep them in the profession long-term.

More than 2,000 nurses graduate each year in Maricopa County, the county said.

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Maricopa County program to give nursing students hands-on experience at medical facilities