Aroostook County – The number of TAMC employees taking advantage of area higher education opportunities and a tuition assistance program offered by the medical center has more than tripled from this time last year, according to officials. Both a focused internal effort to help employees advance in their education and career goals, as well as state and national initiatives to bolster educational attainment among healthcare workers are credited with the large increase.
“Our program is designed to provide employees with the opportunity to expand their educational background for the benefit of both TAMC and the employee,” said Roland Joy, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “TAMC encourages education for its employees because it increases job satisfaction and is a way to invest in its employees, making them more eligible for advancement within the organization and increasing employee expertise within their fields.”
According to Joy, enrollment in the assistance program is increasing each year, and the programs most attended are for clinical areas, such as registered nursing, lab technicians, therapies, and advanced degrees. Others are completing nurse practitioner programs to work as mid-level providers. The greatest growth has been seen in nurses working to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as they work to meet new state and federal standards.
One nurse taking advantage of this opportunity is Amber Nickerson, RN. Nickerson graduated from Northern Maine Community College’s nursing program in 2011 and currently works on TAMC’s medical/surgical floor. She is enrolled in the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s BSN program and plans to graduate next summer or fall.
“I am taking small stepping stones to get to my ultimate goal. Eventually I want to go on and earn my master’s degree,” explained Nickerson. “I knew that eventually the hospital would require me to get my BSN, so it made sense to me to do it now, on my schedule and when I was still pretty fresh out of school.”
Following national standards, the State of Maine has adopted a goal to increase the proportion of bedside nurses with a BSN to 80 percent by 2020 and to encourage at least 10 percent of BSNs into Master of Science in Nursing or doctorate programs to meet the instructional needs of the nursing programs throughout the State. With TAMC’s encouragement, 38 employees are enrolled in the hospital’s Handfast Educational Loan Program (HELP). A year ago, that number was eleven.
The HELP program is similar to a loan, but rather than making regular payments to a financial institution when the loan comes due, employees who take advantage of this type of assistance commit to a term of employment service as repayment.
“The HELP program offers more assistance to employees as they are working toward completion of an advanced degree,” explained Lynn Turnbull, director of clinical education, hemodialysis and chaplaincy services. “These employees have generally been identified through professional development as candidates for continued education. This program has a service commitment which is determined by the total amount of assistance and begins after successful completion of the degree program.”
Several Crown Emergency Care personnel are among those benefiting from this opportunity, including paramedics Jeff Kiser and Ryan Morneault.
Morneault is a flight paramedic who is currently enrolled in the nursing program at NMCC.
“Being a critical care paramedic is the top of the career field in EMS [emergency medical services]. After 15 years, I want to broaden my horizon and reach out for more opportunities in the medical field,” said Morneault. Once he completes his degree from NMCC, he plans to continue his education with an ultimate goal of becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
Kiser also has aspirations for moving beyond the EMS field. He is currently working toward his Bachelor of Applied Science degree at the University of Maine at Presque Isle with a minor in biology and a pre-med concentration.
“Working in the emergency department with the doctors has helped to give me motivation to go further with my career. I want to try to go all the way,” said Kiser, who plans to take his MCATS this summer in hopes of getting into medical school after he graduates from UMPI in two more years.
While Kiser, Morneault and Nickerson are all benefiting from the HELP program, TAMC also offers a second type of financial assistance: a reimbursement of up to $700 for tuition to an employee who successfully completes an approved college course. Courses that qualify for this program include those that are part of a business or job-related degree or diploma program, and classes or specialized programs that will directly assist employees to increase their effectiveness or improve their job performance. Employees with a minimum of six months employment at the beginning of the course of study are eligible for the tuition reimbursement consideration.
According to Joseph Siddiqui, vice president of human resources, EMHS Northwest Region, either form of financial assistance is good for use in a variety of education programs and employees are currently enrolled in several different types. To continue qualifying for assistance, the employees have a responsibility to put their best foot forward and maintain enrollment in their program of study and successfully complete their classes.
In addition to financial support, which is often a barrier for people seeking to further their education, TAMC management offers support of another, equally important, kind. This is important as finding a balance between work, home and school can sometimes be a challenging task.
“Managers also try to work around class schedules in support of continuing education,” said Turnbull. “We encourage employees and management to discuss career goals on a regular basis.”
Siddiqui says that supporting employees looking to further their education is all part of the plan – the TAMC Strategic Plan for the Fiscal Years 2014-2016, that is.
“[The plan] includes a focus on the ‘people pillar’ (one of six pillars of excellence that we use to align our work). Under the people pillar, our goal is to ‘Develop a patient-focused team that shares common values and realizes its full potential.’ One of the three specific strategies under that goal is to ‘Support personal and professional growth.’ We place high value on this because research shows that opportunities for professional development lead to better outcomes for patients; innovative solutions to challenges; higher degrees of employee engagement; greater employee retention; higher degrees of teamwork and collaboration; and better preparation for the future of the organization,” said Siddiqui.
Putting words into action, Joy himself is one of the group of TAMC employees who is working toward an advanced degree.
“I have always wanted to be a life-long learner, and while I was encouraging others to take advantage of this opportunity for personal and professional growth, I encouraged myself as well,” said Joy, who is working on his doctorate of Health Administration through the University of Phoenix. He is eight months into the four year program.