Career fair aims to fill health fields

by Eric Swanson

The University is doing its part to curb employee shortages in the health-care industry.

On Wednesday, the Academic Health Center held its third annual Health Career Fair, drawing hundreds of community college, high school and University students.

The fair, located in Moos Tower, aimed to increase the state’s health-care worker shortage in several key fields, including nursing, medical technology, bio-terrorism and emergency preparedness, said Kathy Peterson, senior career consultant for the Health Careers Center.

“(The careers fair) was inspired by a few things,” Peterson said. “We want to give students information in a wider array of medical fields, and we want to stimulate the disparities in certain fields.”

She said despite labor shortages in many fields, the career fair was positive.

“We are recruiting students to great careers, so what’s the down side?” Peterson said.

For more than a decade, there have been shortages in nursing and other health-care service positions across the country. The difficulty for many is that there are no easy solutions to the shortage.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the country is short 135,000 nurses. By 2020, that number is expected to reach 800,000.

In addition to the annual career fair, the University is also involved in other efforts to train nurses.

Last year, the University added a 16-month, post-baccalaureate program and a satellite nursing program in Rochester, Minn.

The University is also working with local medical groups and nursing organizations to find a permanent solution, which School of Nursing communications director Mary Pattock said is a daunting task.

“The problem is more complex than producing more nurses,” Pattock said.

The problem is fueled by people living longer, an increase in infectious diseases, a lack of funding for health care and the baby boomer generation bordering on retirement, she said.

In addition to funding issues for nursing students, there is also a lack of qualified faculty to teach them.

The University admits a combined 160 students each year to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and satellite programs, but nursing school officials said finding qualified people to educate them is increasingly difficult.

“The challenge that we now face is with limited faculty,” nursing school associate Jennifer Rosand said. “A big part is just getting nurses educated.”

Peterson said she agreed with Rosand.

“We are maxed out,” Peterson said.

For students, the shortage is just what piqued their interest in nursing.

First-year student Kearraih Chineth, who attended the fair, said she has always wanted to help people but the nursing shortage has further motivated her to become a nurse.

Fellow first-year student Benish Punjwani said she came to the fair to get information and to talk with people at the nursing school.

“It is in my nature to help people, and nursing just seemed appealing,” Punjwani said. “The fact that we need nurses also inspired me.”