A three-year initiative to address the long-running problem of a shortage of nurses in Arkansas is being launched by UA Little Rock and CHI St. Vincent. The Pathway Program was announced on Thursday.
It is set up to recruit faculty and fund enrollment for 40 students in an 18-month accelerated program. The cost of tuition will be covered in a loan that will be erased after graduation and 24-months of licensure training and work at CHI St. Vincent.
CEO Chad Aduddell said it’s a new step in a partnership with the university dating back over 50 years.
“We’ve done traditional things that other hospitals and health systems have done across the country. We do recruiting fairs,” he said. “But when we looked at the nursing shortage here in central Arkansas we thought, we need to train our own nurses. We need to grow our own.”
Aduddell said locally about 700 nursing positions go unfilled. He hopes to stem the shortage, which is expected to get worse due to an aging population, by establishing “a dedicated pipeline of quality nurses to CHI St. Vincent.”
The hospital is putting about $330,000 a year into faculty and staff per year in addition to $200,000 annually for tuition costs. UA Little Rock also plans to direct $200,000 per year for tuition for the 40 students.
Chancellor Andrew Rogerson said the university is committed to continue the Pathway Program beyond the initial three-year agreement.
“We will take on the cost after the three years is up. We will absorb the cost of the faculty and staff we hired. Quite frankly, we are committed that this is going to be 40 students extra every year forever,” the Chancellor said after his remarks.
Rogerson thinks interest is there for the field and the university’s nursing program but people may have just been waiting for the right kind of support.
“This is a very lock-step program. We don’t expect students to fall by the wayside. We will fully fund their tuition costs so this is a very attractive offer for the right student,” he said.
UA Little Rock currently graduates about 220 nursing students per calendar year. One former graduate, Leah Smith is now an RN at CHI St. Vincent in the Oncology Unit.
Smith said the instruction at UA Little Rock has served her well, “once I stepped out I was confident in my skills. I was ready to jump out and get started. I feel like that foundation was laid here.”
The nursing shortage is something Smith said she’s experienced firsthand, “sometimes the nurse to patient ratio is overwhelming. There have been times where I’ve had six to seven patients and it’s scary. You can’t really give that quality patient care.”
“When you’re fatigued and you work long hours under a stressful environment it’s easier to make mistakes or to have any type of errors that may occur. We really needed nurses that are caring and compassionate,” she said. “I really look forward to seeing what this can evolve into.”