Given the national shortage of nurses, one way a health system can build stability in its workforce is by fostering career growth among current staff.
The UAB Medicine/Wallace State Community College (UAB/WSCC) Nursing Workforce Initiative (NWI) creates a pathway for full-time UAB Medicine employees to advance their career by earning a licensed practical nurse (LPN) certificate or associate degree in nursing (ADN), effective in 2023. Enrollment in the NWI has increased tenfold since it launched in 2022 as a scholarship program funded by UAB Medicine.
Increasing the number of licensed staff has been a priority at UAB Medicine for the past several years. Chief Nursing Officer Terri Poe initially tasked Terri L. Johnson, clinical liaison manager, and Jeanette Ray, associate vice president and rehabilitation manager, to explore new ideas for nurturing nursing talent and commitment. Johnson was aware that there were UAB staff members who were interested in pursuing a LPN certificate but faced obstacles related to the cost of the program and ability to coordinate classes around work schedules. The UAB/WSCC NWI was designed to help UAB staff members overcome the challenges related to finances and the need for flexible work schedules.
“LPNs provide direct patient care, and the need for this role has grown significantly,” Johnson said. “Becoming an LPN is a logical career step for many who have worked in health care in other roles. It’s an attractive pathway because once prerequisites are complete, in just three semesters of coursework, a student can begin a new career.”
Due to the success of the first cohort of students through the LPN pathway, the program has evolved to include a pathway to the ADN degree with an additional two semesters of coursework.
Designed for working students
Previously, the only option for non-nursing staff to become a nurse was through the Educational Assistance Program, which offers 100% tuition assistance at UAB. Although the UAB School of Nursing offers pathways for those who want to earn a BSN, they do not currently include a pathway for non-licensed staff to obtain the LPN certificate or an ADN degree. This new NWI provides an option for non-licensed employees to pursue a nursing career without the cost of tuition.
“The NWI program is an alternative pathway for current UAB Medicine employees as working adults,” said Aaryn Levert-Kidd, an executive assistant who manages the new program with Johnson.
After completing the LPN program, these graduates may choose to work as LPNs indefinitely or continue through the ADN degree program for their RN licensure. “The LPN-only option led us to partner with Wallace State in a way that makes sense for both parties,” Johnson said, adding that the first enrollees under this program began their coursework in January 2022.
The scholarships have attracted patient care technicians (PCTs), certified medical assistants (CMAs), unit secretaries, and various other employees. “Some of them have been here for years, and they are reinvigorated by this chance to improve their skills and earn more in an environment they already understand,” Levert-Kidd said.
The scholarship is an agreement; UAB Medicine covers the cost of school, and the future nurse agrees to maintain full-time employment status and continue to work for UAB for two years as an LPN or three years as an RN. Initially, the nursing program only accepted applicants during a January enrollment for 2022 and 2023. With the growth of the program, fall enrollments have been added.
The criteria for eligibility are:
- Employed by UAB Medicine for one year or more
- Employed by UAB Medicine full-time for the previous six months
- No record of disciplinary action within the previous 12 months and in good standing as an employee
- Manager’s written approval and support of the employee’s application
Surging interest and the RN option
Eight employees took advantage of the new program in 2022. Two of them began working as RNs in August 2023, and one began working as an LPN at UAB Medicine in December 2022. Two additional cohorts the nursing program in 2023, while the others are working on prerequisite coursework. The 2023 class includes almost 100 students – a tenfold increase that Levert-Kidd attributes mostly to word-of-mouth enthusiasm.
“Some of our new students were interested in extending their education further, since becoming a RN takes only two more semesters beyond the LPN program,” Johnson said, adding that the scholarship program now covers RN courses for students who commit an additional year of employment to UAB, for a total of three years.
Making it work
The UAB/WSCC NWI course of study is designed to be manageable for full-time employees. Johnson and Levert-Kidd have worked to make it even more convenient in the following ways:
- One required course is now available on campus at UAB.
- Virtual course options are emphasized when possible.
- Managers help staff fulfill their required weekly hours when class interferes with normal work hours – for example, by letting them complete hours as patient observers.
“This is one of the most exciting and successful programs I’ve been a part of,” Johnson said. “It’s a pathway for people who already live up to our Core Values to advance their careers and a way for UAB Medicine to keep providing the excellent health care our patients deserve.”
This story is part of the Nursing Annual Report 2022. Click here to view the report.