MAYS LANDING – Nursing students about to complete Atlantic Cape Community College’s program as registered nurses moved around the student center on Monday at a job fair to help them choose which hospital or other institution to apply to, or which additional training to choose next.
Some had already chosen their next step.
“I applied to a graduated trauma unit at AtlantiCare,” said Ke’Shia Williams, 26, of Egg Harbor Township. She had already been hired by the hospital system but was there with her friend Onessa Minard, from Ventnor, who was considering her options.
Williams, a 2013 graduate of Atlantic City High School, first earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rowan University before deciding to go to nursing school, she said.
Minard, a 2016 graduate of Atlantic City High School, said she’s wanted to be a neonatal nurse since middle school.
She cannot be hired directly for a neonatal job, she said, so she applies to be a medical/surgical nurse for about a year before she can try a neonatal job.
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“It will most likely be AtlantiCare,” she said of where she will take a position. “It’s local and they have some really good perks.”
“We’ve already hired a lot of them,” said Jacqueline Bortu, nursing manager and recruiter for AtlantiCare. She said the hospital system has more job openings than normal, but is unaware of the severe shortages many are facing.
Bortu worked as a medical/surgical nurse and in labor and delivery for about 13 years before taking the recruiter job about a year ago, she said.
“I can talk about variety,” she said, with so many different types of nursing available to people.
Williams and Menard said they would both likely enroll in an online bachelor’s degree in nursing program at William Paterson University.
Both plan to earn their bachelor’s degrees while employed, with tuition covered by the employer.
About 100 to 110 students are accepted into Atlantic Cape’s two-year nursing program each year, said Geralynn Michelfelder, chair of the Atlantic Cape Department of Nursing.
“It’s competitive to get in. It gives us the best students,” Michelfelder said.
Andrew Chillari, 25, from Ventnor, is a Holy Spirit graduate in the class of 2014. He already works at Cooper University Hospital in Camden as an operating room technician, he said, and plans to become operating room nurse.
Chillari spent time talking to Carla Donega, associate director of health profession partnerships for Thomas Edison University in Trenton.
Donega said the school specializes in meeting the needs of adult learners in full-time jobs, offering not only online courses, but courses that can be taken any time of the day or night for flexibility. extreme.
The class of 2021 ends with a shortage of nurses. The field is suffering from long-term nurse burnout who had to work long hours under great stress, especially at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelfelder said.
A recent New Jersey Hospital Association surveyed 70% of hospitals in the state about the extent of the worker shortage and found that the vacancy rate for registered nurses had risen to 13.4% in 2021, compared to 8.2% in 2020.
Hospitals said they spent about $222 million on agency and travel staff, which fill the shortage of full-time nurses, in 2020, and about $670 million in 2021.
“What’s amazing is that in light of all of this, we still have all these students ready to enroll and be a part of patient care,” Michelfelder said.
Currently, around 20% of nursing students at Atlantic Cape are male and 47% are members of minority groups, she said.
The program to become a registered nurse costs about $23,000 over two years, according to the Atlantic Cape website.
For a time, the typical age for students was in their late 20s to early 30s, Michelfelder said. But in recent years, and especially during the pandemic, the average age has dropped.
“There’s been a lot of publicity about nurses on the front lines and as heroes,” Michelfelder said. Young people see it as a way to do something that makes a difference, she says.
“I’m thinking of doing maternity and OB (obstetrics) nursing,” said Shannen Haviland, 23, of Upper Township. “I now work in an OB office, as a medical assistant.”
She wants to stay in the area for her first nursing job and complete a bachelor’s degree, she said.
A graduate of Ocean City High School’s class of 2016, she’s turning to Rutgers University for her next step in education.
Most South Jersey hospital systems were there to recruit, as was Recovery Centers of America at Lighthouse in Mays Landing.
“We are looking for nurses who have a passion for treating people with addictions — to alcohol or other drugs. We treat them all,” said Tracy Terrana, head of nurse education for Lighthouse.
The main responsibility of nurses in such settings is to distribute the drugs, she said.
“But we don’t want people just giving pills,” said Joseph Ognibene, Lighthouse’s director of nursing. “We want nurses to be compassionate.”
JOURNALIST: Michelle Brunetti