TAWAS CITY  – Alpena Comunity College (ACC) and Ascension St. Joseph of Tawas are restarting a clinicals program for prospective nursing students.

Due to the high amount of specialization and training required in their work, nurses can’t just start a job directly out of school. That’s where clinicals step in.

Clinicals are a stage in a nurse’s career where they gain hands on experience and “get a sense of where they want to ultimately practice,” says Shane Hunt, Hospital Administrator at Ascension St. Joseph.

“It really allows the student to be supervised and mentored,” said Hunt.

ACC and St. Joseph had a partnership a few years ago for on-the-job training but Hunt said interest waned over time. Now, due to ACC’s establishment of a remote nursing program in Oscoda, the two organizations are restarting the program.

“I always tell newly graduated students: When you get out, it takes 6 months, maybe a year or more where you’re continually learning every day you come,” says Hunt.

Despite the long hours of learning experience required, Hunt says clinicals are a great opportunity to get nurses thinking about what career path they want to take.

“(Clinicals) allows them to get a sense of where they ultimately want to practice,” he says. “What makes nursing so great, is there are multiple opportunities to participate in.”

Michelle Fournier-Thomas, Director of Nursing at ACC, says allowing students to work closer to home benefits Iosco county.

“Students often seek employment where they are trained because they are more comfortable in the facility,” she says. “Students will not have to drive to Alpena or West Branch for all their clinicals.”

According to Fournier-Thomas, Ascension and ACC completed a contract in the spring of 2021 and an estimated group of around 20 students started clinicals in August. Currently there are 56 students operating under Clinicals through ACC.

ACC also partners with MidMichigan Alpena and West Branch and Medilodge along with several other community organizations.

St. Joseph Ascension is offering  clinicals in their Emergency Department, Medical Surgical Units, Intensive Care Units and Labor and Delivery Units.

“Students have an instructor on site with them and perform all of the basic care functions, various procedures, documentation and function as a member of the patient care team,” says Fournier-Thomas.

Most medical positions are specialized, which means that clinicals provides a transitory period in a nurse’s career to allow them to try out many things before they decide what department they’d like to focus in.

“The philosophy of ACC’s nursing program is one of hands-on experience. For nursing students to feel comfortable in the role they must perform the tasks and having a clinical partner that allows students that ability is vital to their success in the profession of nursing,” says Fournier-Thomas.

Hunt says nursing programs are especially important now because there’s still a great need for nurses due to a national shortage.

According to The American Nurses Association (ANA), more registered nurse jobs will be available through 2022 than any other profession in the United States.

According to an article titled “Nursing Shortage” on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website, the United States is experiencing a nationwide shortage of nurses.

It says the nursing profession continues to face shortages due to a lack of potential educators, high turnover, and an inequitable workforce distribution.

One of the major contributors is an aging population.

“In 2029, the last of the baby boomer generation will reach retirement age, resulting in a 73% increase in Americans 65 years of age and older, 41 million in 2011 compared to 71 million in 2019,” said the article.

More elderly people means more health problems and a higher demand for healthcare.

The article also talks about potential factors contributing to the shortages pointing at an aging workforce, nurse burn out and the fact that the majority of nurses are female. Females generally are likelier to leave work for familial duties based on societal expectations, not to mention maternity leave if they’re expecting children.

That shortage is something Hunt hopes to remedy by bringing aboard freshly graduated prospects. Clinicals are a great recruiting tool, he says.

“This partnership allows them to have an opportunity to see what we’re about. Ultimately we would hope they chose us as a personal employer.”

In addition, Ascension Faculty sharpen their skills through teaching because educating others reinforces understanding, says Hunt.

“When you’re involved in education of any type, you are provided a deeper level of understanding.”

Hunt said one unique feature about Ascension Health Systems are their advancements in Telemedicine, which involves remotely treating patients. Since they’re part of a network of 16 hospitals spread across Michigan, they’re networked together and working at one Ascension Hospital provides an employee a larger pool of opportunity when they become full-fledged nurses.

“It’s a good thing for the community, it’s a good thing for new nurses. Any time we can promote people to be in our community, it’s a good thing.”

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