NURSING FAST FACTS
• Hospitals, long-term care facilities and other ambulatory care settings added 37,000 new jobs in March 2011, the biggest monthly increase recorded by any employment sector.
• About 283,000 jobs have been added in the health care sector within the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• In December 2009, bureau workforce analysts projected that more than 581,500 registered nurse positions will be created through 2018, which would increase the size of the RN workforce by 22 percent.
• Employment of RNs is expected to grow much faster than the average when compared to all other professions.
Source: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing
The Division of Nursing & Allied Health at Chattanooga State Community College will hold a series of information sessions to cover the application process, admission requirements, the selection process, program overview, curriculum and career opportunities. All sessions will be held in the Health Science Building.
• Registered nursing program, 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sept. 13 in Room 1083.
• Dental hygiene program, 11 a.m. Sept. 16 in Room 2031. Reservations required; -mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Respiratory care program, noon Sept. 14 in Room 2117.
• Health information management program, 10 a.m. Sept. 16 in Room 2106.
For more information about any of the programs in the Division of Nursing and Allied Health, visit www.chattanoogastate.edu/allied_health/ or call 423-697-4450.
The first time Matt Roberson applied for Chattanooga State's registered nursing program in 2009, he wasn't surprised he got a rejection letter because he knew how competitive the program was.
So he simply kept going, determined to try again.
The second denial was harder to accept. He had finished most of his prerequisite courses such as biology and thought he was doing everything he could.
Still, he didn't give up, and the third letter he received provided one of the happiest moments in his life. Roberson started nursing classes this fall and expects to graduate in 2013.
Health-related programs are at capacity again this year in most of the area's colleges and universities with demand far exceeding availability, according to school officials. And this fall, computer and engineering classes and professional cohort programs in art and chemistry are filling up, as well. Cohort programs have openings once a year for a certain number of students who move through the program together.
Much of the demand for health programs is related to the job market, said Cynthia Swafford, director of the nursing program at Chattanooga State Community College.
"This day and time, any of the health care careers are looked upon as being sort of recession-proof, people are still going to be sick and need health care," she said.
About 95 percent of Chattanooga State's nursing students find a job within six months after graduation, she said.
Interest in jobs at the Volkswagen assembly plant and Wacker chemical appears to be the driving force behind higher enrollment in programs such as chemistry and engineering, said Fannie Hewlett, vice president for academic affairs at Chattanooga State.
Area colleges and universities are accustomed to strong enrollment, particularly during times of economic hardship. This fall's numbers show:
• Demand for computer classes in the business and information systems division at Chattanooga State surpasses the number of computers available. Enrollment in engineering increased 30 percent over last fall, Hewlett said.
• At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, all cohort-based professional programs are full. That includes nursing, both undergraduate and graduate, physical therapy, social work and athletic training, according to university spokeswoman Cindy Carroll.
Non-cohort-based programs nearing capacity include art and chemistry, Carroll wrote in an email, and programs in communications, economics and history are nearly at capacity, as well.
• Chattanooga State received 633 applications for its day and night registered nursing program, out of which 177 were accepted and 160 enrolled. For the radiation technology program, 133 students applied for the fall semester and only 37 were accepted, according to enrollment data.
The issue for schools, said Sharon Adkins, executive director of the Tennessee Nurses Association, is that the nursing program requires a high instructor-to-student ratio and there aren't enough faculty members to satisfy the number of students interested in the program.
"Many of these schools don't have the actual physical capabilities to increase class size," she said.
Even when capacity can be increased, it isn't enough to handle the demand. Chattanooga State added two anatomy and physiology labs this fall for 26 students each, said Hewlett.
Cleveland State Community College will offer a night nursing program in January for the first time, said Jerry Faulkner, vice president for academic affairs.
The nursing program, which includes clinical hands-on experience and lab hours, has a capacity of 85, he said, which the college has reached in the last three years he's held his position. The night nursing program initially will admit 40 students, he said.
Cleveland State also is looking for nursing faculty, Faulkner said.
"We would like to look at increasing our capacity, but that includes more facilities and more faculty, and with the decline in state funding that's a little difficult right now," he said.
At Dalton State College in Georgia, for fall 2011, 55 students applied for the licensed practical nursing program and 29 were accepted, according to Jodi Johnson, vice president for enrollment and student services. Thirty per class is the school's maximum, she said.
For registered nursing, 142 students applied this semester for only 80 slots available, she said.
The job placement rate for those who responded to a school survey was 100 percent for the licensed practical nursing program and 90 percent for registered nursing, she said.
Admission to programs such as nursing and those in the allied health divisions, which have an enrollment cap, is based on a point system that includes a student's grade-point average, score on an entrance exam and prerequisite courses already completed, said Chattanooga State's Swafford.
Roberson, even after retaking two courses in which he had gotten C's and applying for the third time, said he still had doubts about whether he would be accepted.
"One of my friends had to come to the post office box to open [the letter] with me because I just couldn't open it," he said.
His heart was racing, his hands were shaking and when he read its contents he screamed and called everybody he knew. He finally had gotten in.
"Now I feel I'm finally going somewhere instead of standing still," said Roberson.
The prospect of a job upon graduation is important to him, but nursing is also his passion. Learning about the human body and taking care of people are what pushed him into the profession, he said, no matter how hard it was to get in and how challenging the coursework will be.
"When you take care of people, you can make a difference in their day," said the 24-year-old South Pittsburg, Tenn., native.
Adkins, of the Tennessee Nurses Association, said the profession is at an interesting point now.
"There's still a nursing shortage but, because of the recession, many nurses who were ready to retire are putting off retirement, nurses who had been working part time are now are working full time," she said.
There are still nursing jobs available, but not necessarily in hospitals, she said.
Still, she said, nursing is going to be one of the fastest-growing professions in the health care industry.
For most area colleges, the limited number of clinical sites where students can get supervised hands-on experience is also a challenge, said Johnson with Dalton State.
Prerequisite courses such as chemistry and nutrition are also at capacity or nearing capacity, according to Hewlett. But if a course is full, a student always has the option to enroll in an online class, she said.
And there doesn't seem to be an end to the backlog for such programs, school officials said.
"We are always going to have more students that we can legitimately accept into the program," Hewlett said.