New nursing school grads should enjoy healthy job market

by Jeff Barron

LANCASTER -- At 41 and with three children and a husband, Cora Arledge is ready for a career change.

After earning a math education degree from Ohio University and teaching in the Lancaster school system in the early 1990s, she soon will become a nurse at Mount Carmel Hospital in Columbus. The position is contingent on Arledge passing the state nursing test in a few weeks.

"I've always wanted to be able to care for people," Arledge said. "Doctors are more into curing. But with nurses, the focus is more on caring for the patient."

She will graduate today from the Fairfield Medical Center and Mount Carmel College of Nursing School's joint four-year degree program. Fifteen of the 199 graduates took their freshman core classes at Ohio University-Lancaster before completing their nursing courses at FMC. While at FMC, they completed their clinicals and worked with patients.

FMC and Mount Carmel started the program in 2008 and today's class will be the first to graduate. All graduates will have bachelor's degrees from MCCN.

Five of the graduates will work at FMC, four at Mount Carmel and three in Columbus hospitals, and one will do mission work in South America.

Arledge worked as an emergency room technician at Mount Carmel West for three years while in school. She said the job helped her in class because she saw practical applications of what she was learning.

FMC Chief Nursing Officer Cynthia Pearsall has been a nurse for 35 years. She said a nursing shortage still exits, so the job outlook is good for graduates.

"The average age of a nurse is the late 40s and it keeps growing," Pearsall said. "Many of us are significantly older than that and we will be retiring. So the projection is for a very acute shortage of nursing care, particularly in the gerontology world, meaning the older population's world. As we age we're going to need people to take care of us. So the job market is very bright for us right now."

Some new graduates are struggling to find jobs because nurses are not retiring as rapidly as in the past.

"As the economy improves, that will open up, though," Pearsall said. "And as we age, that will open up."

In addition to area hospitals, nursing school graduates can find jobs in nursing homes and home health care, she said.

"When people find out you're a nurse, somehow you become more employable, no matter what it is," Pearsall said. "The Gallup Poll, year in and year out, has said that nurses are the most trusted profession. So it (nursing) kind of ports to lots of different things."

While some of the graduates will work at FMC, completing the course does not guarantee them FMC employment.

Pearsall had some advice for the newly minted graduates, wherever they find work.

"I have two main things I tell them," she said. "One is to keep reading. The best way to keep up is to read what's out there. Read journals, read books. Read everyday what's out there in terms of our science and our art."

Pearsall also said nurses should work in medical/surgical units, or more general units, before getting into specialized areas of nursing like surgery or critical care.

"Those are all wonderful and we need great nurses," she said. "But they will be better at that in the future if they've had a couple years of med/surgical experience."

Nurses in medical/surgical units care for patients with a variety of illnesses and complications.

For Arledge, she already has worked hard to learn quite a bit.

"It was a tough program," she said. "There was a lot of reading, critical thinking and how-and-why applications. It took a good bit of studying."

Arledge's school work ended on Monday when she completed her final assignment.

"I didn't know what to do with myself this week," she said. "It was a weird feeling not having any papers to write or anything else I had to do. I want to pick up a novel because I haven't been able to read one the last several years I've been in class."

MCCN Dean and President Ann Schiele said FMC is the only hospital the school has a joint arrangement with.

"The program at FMC has been a wonderful partnership, designed to meet the critical nursing needs of our communities," she said.

Jeff Barron can be reached at (740) 681-4340 or jbarron@lancastereaglegazette.com.

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