How Schools Are Working To End N.M.’s Nurse Shortage

Lisa Knigge-Hunstman, campus director at PIMA Medical Institute in Albuquerque, explains how this simulation works.
SARAH TRUJILLO / KUNM

  • Sarah Trujillo
  • Monday, December 18, 2017

Nearly one in 10 Americans works in the health care industry. It’s the same for our state, but there’s still a shortage of nurses here. Some schools are making efforts to get more nurses into the field.

Lisa Knigge-Huntsman showed potential students around the Pima Medical Institute in Albuquerque earlier this year, which included meeting one of their simulation dummies. It was sitting upright in a hospital bed, arms outstretched, staring straight ahead.

“So he can do everything,” Knigge-Huntsman said. “They can learn so much because they can kill him and they can redo it again.”

Knigge-Huntsman said students come for their accelerated program and the hands-on experience. Applicants must pass an entrance exam and nail an interview to get a spot in PIMA’s program, and the school will help students who still need to earn their high school diploma.

A PIMA nursing degree takes just over a year and a half and costs about $45,000, which is worth it to some folks who don’t want to wait for a spot in a public nursing program.

Two-year nursing degrees at community colleges here cost a fraction of that, but applicants in places like Santa Fe and Albuquerque were often stuck on waitlists — sometimes for years.

Diane Evans-Prior is with the nursing program at CNM.

“They were justifiably angry,” Evans-Prior explained.

She said she really felt for the students. They were racking up useless credits that wouldn’t count towards the nursing degree while they were waiting to get into the program.

“And one woman came to my office she said before I tried to get into your nursing program I was a nice person, and I’m not anymore,” Evans-Prior said.

Evans-Prior said they recruited more faculty and clinical sites and worked with education officials to adopt a statewide nursing curriculum to allow more transfers between colleges.

“We’ve really pulled out so many of those confounding factors so that this is reasonable again,” Evans-Prior said.

CNM also opened the door to lottery scholarship recipients, and Evans-Prior said the number of students moving through the program almost doubled. More and more students are staying to finish their degrees at CNM, according to CNM’s annual reports, and the number of students dropping out of the program has plunged. The number of nursing students of color has been steadily increasing, too.

“We’ve got what we need to do the job that we need, and we’re rewarded with a great student population,” Evans-Prior said.

Johnny Bowles is a local student.

“What really pulled me into nursing was an anatomy class and we learned more about the human body and that was just amazing,” Bowles explained. “Got to dissect a cow’s heart.”

Bowles said he knew immediately that nursing was his calling. But after finishing up all his prerequisites at New Mexico State, his grades weren’t high enough to earn him a spot in the nursing program there. So he took a job in his hometown of Santa Fe, and a couple years later, he tried again.

“Finally, I just said ‘You know, let’s go for it,’ and I did what I needed to do,” Bowles said.

Bowles got into the program at the Santa Fe Community College. He said getting that letter was one of the happiest days of his life, and he got to start right away.

“Hopefully, I would have kept trying,” Bowles said, “but I am glad that I didn’t have to get on that waitlist.”

Now he can complete his degree close to his home and his family.

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KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico Project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation. Find out more at www.publichealthnm.org.

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