Three new nurses offer hope amid acute shortage of skilled professionals

I had the privilege of visiting Taylor West, Arielle Chinea and Austin Chapa this week as they complete their undergraduate studies at UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing and prepare to enter a market with a acute shortage of trained nurses.

West, Chinea and Chapa will have a range of professional options. As my colleague Shari Biediger reported in October, there are over 3,000 vacant positions for Registered Professional Nurses (LVN) and Registered Nurses (RN) in Bexar County. The university health system, which hosted a job fair at the San Antonio Colonnade hotel on Wednesday, has nearly 300 nursing positions.

Hospitals and frontline healthcare workers continue to experience the pandemic on a daily basis, caring for very ill, mostly unvaccinated patients and their families in a pandemic that is out of sight, out of sight. mind of a large part of the public. Stress levels and attrition rates are high even as wages increase.

There are 800 undergraduate and graduate students at the School of Nursing, which has a 90% graduation rate. Even then, this is nowhere near enough for a fast growing city with a large population of people with chronic health conditions.

There are other, smaller nursing programs at Alamo Colleges, University of the Incarnate Word, nonprofit Hallmark University, and at least two for-profit schools. UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, however, represents the pinnacle of nursing education.

West, Chinea, Chapa and their fellow graduates are the future of health care in San Antonio. As any hospitalized person can attest, the experience relies heavily on the quality and dedication of the nurses, who represent the human connection in an industry increasingly focused on results.

The three students with Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees expressed their passion for their profession and reflected the excellent education and significant experience they have gained over the past four years. Our conversation left me much more inspired. All three are graduates of local public schools and all three are looking to work in the local market.

The pandemic did not discourage them.

“My mother (Lori Chapa) was a nurse for 28 years at the university hospital and I always wanted to do something where I help people,” Chapa said. “I feel compassion for the people we serve. “

“I am up to the challenge,” Chinea said. Speaking about her work with military veterans, she added, “Veterans have a lot of experiences and challenges, but I hope I can educate them and improve their lives.

West and Chinea, current graduates, hope to build on their past intern work at “The VA,” South Texas’s veteran health care system, to land full-time jobs there now.

Arielle Chinea, BSN and Austin Chapa work with a robot that simulates a pediatric patient with a tracheostomy tube inside the simulation lab at UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Their enrollment in the federally funded Advancing Community Oriented Registered Nurses (ACORN) program saw them work in tight-knit clinical teams with physicians, physician assistants and technicians to educate patients on preventative care, a healthier lifestyle and the importance of having a primary care physician.

“I want all of my patients to have access to a primary care physician in their lifetime,” West said. “I hope there would be fewer sick people in our city. Good health for all is our goal.

Chapa has one final semester to complete before entering the workforce. The median salary for registered nurses in San Antonio ranges from $ 65,000 to $ 70,000, with overtime bringing annual pay to $ 80,000, according to various job boards. An online ad for the San Antonio Children’s Hospital offers nurses a signing bonus.

“There is a shortage of nurses, but you have seen how compassionate, intelligent and dedicated these graduates are, ready to serve those in need,” said Eileen Breslin, longtime dean of the school of ‘nurses. “I’m actually optimistic about the future of healthcare as we move from treating illnesses to addressing underlying social determinants and promoting better health and more equitable healthcare. ”

Breslin plans to retire in the spring of 2022 once his successor is recruited through a national search, ending a 13-year term as dean of the nursing school and a 45 year career in nursing.

“Despite the pandemic, it’s an incredible time at UT Health San Antonio so the position is very attractive. Research grants are increasing, more and more talented professionals are recruited here, there is the new hospital; it’s actually a good time.

In a city with a high rate of poverty and the illnesses that accompany it, there is a lot of other care to be done beyond those hospitalized with COVID. The stress experienced by nurses and other front-line healthcare workers over the past 21 months has resulted in further attrition and exacerbated skill shortages that previously existed.

One question is whether the nursing shortage will be addressed in the city’s four-year, $ 200 million program: Ready to Work. It will be launched next year and aims to train and employ up to 40,000 unemployed and underemployed people living in or near the poverty line.

It’s a guaranteed well-paying job for people with a passion to help others, and unlike so many other jobs, nurses likely won’t have to worry about being made redundant in the event of a pandemic.

Disclosure: UT Health San Antonio is a commercial member of San Antonio Report.

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