Casey Dumond knew as a 5-year-old that she wanted to be a nurse. As a high school student, she took a course to become a certified nursing assistant, which strengthened her resolve to pursue a nursing career. Today, she’s a junior at the University of Maine studying nursing.
Dumond, 23, is getting practical training in her field and interacting with patients earlier than she expected through a new program called the dedicated nursing education unit, a partnership between the University of Maine and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. She is one of the first eight students participating in the program that assigns nursing students to look after patients under the supervision of hospital nurses.
“From what I know, we all really like the program,” she said. “We’ve found an independence and comfort level caring for patients.”
Leaders from Northern Light EMMC and UMaine announced the dedicated education unit, which began earlier this fall, at a news conference on Thursday, highlighting it as a part of the solution to Maine’s projected shortage of registered nurses.
The students’ training at the hospital counts toward their coursework requirements, and it helps them become better prepared to join the workforce after graduation, said Dr. Mary Walker, the director of UMaine’s School of Nursing and one of its professors.
The students work 12-hour shifts once a week, and they’re each assigned two patients to take care of. Dumond said that her responsibilities include administering patients’ medication, changing dressings and performing routine health assessments.
The hands-on approach marks a change from the nurse training that has traditionally taken place at Northern Light EMMC.
Traditionally, a UMaine instructor has brought groups of eight students each to the hospital for two, six-hour shifts each week, said Deborah Sanford, the hospital’s vice president of nursing and patient care services. The dedicated education unit allows students to work in smaller groups under the direct supervision of staff nurses and do more hands-on work caring for patients.
The old program is still in place, Sanford said, doubling the amount of students receiving hands-on training at Northern Light EMMC.
“Utilizing the staff from Eastern Maine Medical Center helps us essentially double the number of teachers that we have for students, and using the dedicated education unit allows us to double the clinical experience for the students,” Walker said. “So effectively we can admit more people that we’re able to handle just by ourselves.”
The hospital plans to expand the dedicated education unit to include more students after evaluating this first attempt, Sanford said.
The state’s nursing programs have managed to graduate more students in recent years, but the projected shortage of registered nurses remains real. The Center for Health Affairs estimates that Maine will see 2,700 nursing vacancies by 2025.
At Thursday’s news conference, leaders from some of the state’s largest health systems, the Maine Rural Health Collaborative, the Maine Hospital Association and UMaine’s nursing school touted what they saw as part of the solution to the shortage. They endorsed Question 4 on Tuesday’s ballot, a $49 million bond that would direct $12 million to expand nursing education at University of Maine System campuses.