SWOCC's new nursing program

SWOCC's new nursing program director, Joannie Miller, talks about the expanding nursing program at the community college. Miller stands where one of the nursing classes will be taught, in the old music room, to accommodate the increased number of students.

COOS BAY — To combat the nursing shortage on the South Coast, the nursing program at Southwestern Oregon Community College has doubled its enrollment.

There are now 50 students arriving this month for the program, a leap from last year’s 24 students.

“The prospect of a nursing shortage causes great concern for health officials and healthcare industry leaders,” read a press release from SWOCC. “Nursing shortages are problematic for workforce planners as there are simply not enough nurses to fill vacant positions. This creates significant effects on healthcare quality and delivery, as nurses provide the highest percentage of patient care.”

Not only that, but the shortage is expected to worsen as experienced nurses start retiring. By 2025, over half of the nursing faculty educating in Oregon now will retire, the release said.

“(SWOCC) is proud to be addressing this serious shortage with the addition of nursing faculty and clinical facility sites,” the release said. “The turning point to increasing enrollment has come about by utilizing bachelor-prepared nurses from the local community to teach the clinical and lab portions of the curriculum.”

The new director of nursing, Joannie Miller, is overseeing the program increase, bringing with her 15 years of experience as a nurse practitioner from her time in La Pine.

“The beauty of this area is we have five clinical sites,” Miller said, referring to Bay Area Hospital, Lower Umpqua Hospital, Southern Coos Hospital, Coquille Valley Hospital and Curry General Hospital, all of which will see students on clinical rotations this year.

According to the press release, BAH will have 36, Lower Umpqua will have two, Southern Coos will have two, Coquille Valley will have four, and Curry General will have six.

In order to accommodate the increase of students, SWOCC hired 11 educators to meet the standard of having one teacher with every eight students during clincials. To make the hires, Southwest Oregon Workforce Investment Board offered a stipend for clinical facility.

“The hospitals that invested in this understand that we have a shortage in the area,” Miller said. “They have to hire traveling staff, which cost them a lot of money, so they know if they make this investment then they end up with students they can hire that are local to the area and want to stay here. Our smaller hospitals are actually getting students placed there from those areas.”

Because the class size is larger than ever before, SWOCC is moving class locations to the music room for now, which is still in the process of being readied before fall term begins later this month.

A kickoff will be held Sept. 18 with student orientation.

“We are looking forward to this year,” Miller said.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.