Pandemic highlights critical shortage in nursing | Madison365
No pandemic was going to get in the way of Iliana Arcelay’s dream to become a nurse.
Plenty of life events had already delayed the dream for the mother of four, who grew up in Milwaukee and returned to the area eight years ago after a stint in Florida.
“Nursing has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” she said in a recent interview. But when her first child came along shortly after high school, she opted to focus on being a mom – a career she continued when another child arrived, followed by a set of twins. She worked a successful real estate career around her motherhood duties, but going back to college for a four-year degree was never going to fit.
“We as parents don’t have much time. As a single mother, I have to make ends meet,” she said.
Then one day a bit over a year ago, Arcelay’s mom was riding past United Community Center in downtown Milwaukee and saw a sign for a new two-year nursing program, run at UCC by Carroll University. The application deadline had passed, but Arcelay emailed anyway; that was on a Friday, and by Monday she’d taken a tour of the facility and submitted an application…
Many people wishing to enter the profession without enough people to educate them leads to a bottleneck of nursing education programs becoming more competitive than they should be.
“Every nursing school is competitive,” said Celise Jones, a sophomore at UW-Green Bay pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. “One of the prerequisite courses that you might have to take, before you get into the nursing program, you may have to fail a couple times. A lot of people I know want to do nursing, but it’s just so hard to get through it.”
Jones said she feels some of the nursing curriculum could be tailored more closely to the specific needs of nursing.
For example, she said she understands the need to learn the chemistry involved in pharmacology – the makeup of medications – but “I don’t really need to know the periodic table.”
For her part, Arcelay said she knows why it has to be tough.
“You have to want it. It’s not all what people think it is, when you walk in the door, it’s not just as easy as you think. I wouldn’t just want anyone taking care of my family either,” she said. “At the end of the day, you want it to be tough, you want it to be something that has some backbone to it, because (in the nursing profession) it’s life or death, right? So at the end of the day, I get it, and it is tough, it is hard, but there’s a reason for it. If you want it bad enough, I think that you just have to stick through it, you have to give it a time, you have to give it the effort.”
“To make that difference”
In addition to getting more prospective nurses through the education system and into jobs, it’s important to retain people in those jobs – an effort that begins with self care.
“It can be draining, but also at the same time, it is rewarding,” said Jones, who got some experience in the field in a CNA training program before the pandemic began. “I think for me, in my mindset, I have to also take care of myself, as well, which I’m still learning … it’s such a stressful job, no matter if you’re in a pandemic or not.”
If one nursing job burns you out, it’s perfectly acceptable and possible to find another, Kaul said.
“Nursing is just so vast, and it’s different areas you can go into, that you can never get bored,” Kaul said, noting that changing paths within the profession is not frowned upon.
“I didn’t know the wide world of nursing” before beginning the Carroll program, Arcelay said. “There’s just hundreds of possibilities.”
Despite the difficulties, especially through the pandemic, everyone we spoke with said the caring profession is worth the effort.
“I love the interaction with patients,” Jones said. “I like the team building.”
“I think that’s what’s so beautiful about nursing is I can be both the science, and I can be the art in my job,” Kaul said. “Sitting next to somebody going through cancer treatment is such a privilege … to be there holding their hand through that, what a wonderful thing to make a difference in someone’s life. I think we’re all here on this Earth to make differences. I can’t think of a better profession than nursing to make that difference.”