NORFOLK, Neb. – The tables have literally turned for Chris Wood. A few years back, he was a nursing student at Northeast Community College who, as part of his education, had an opportunity to visit with a multitude of healthcare employers with jobs to offer after graduation during on-campus career fairs. This week, the operating room manager at Faith Regional Health Services (FRHS) in Norfolk was among employers speaking with the current classes of students.
“It was interesting being on the opposite side of the table to where I was four-years ago,” Wood said. “I’m a little jealous of all the opportunities that these students have now since I was in college.”
The nursing industry has been experiencing a nationwide shortage over the last several years, but it has seen a dramatic transition since 2020 due to the pandemic.
“It’s left a lot of opportunities for nurses now,” Wood said. “With the national nursing shortage, it’s really opened up a lot of doors for people who weren’t there before. Anyone who is willing to step up and do more has additional opportunities for them there now.”
Denise Uhing, with the Department of Health and Human Services – Norfolk Regional Center, is in human resources working in recruitment. She said the nursing shortage has made staffing difficult. Her role at the career fair was to connect with students and to show them what job opportunities exist at the regional center.
“The turnout has just been phenomenal,” Uhing said. “We haven’t had this type of turnout for job fairs for the last couple of years since COVID hit and everybody has just drawn back. So this has been great!”
Uhing said many of the students she spoke with are interested in pursuing different avenues in nursing.
“They have been really open to our discussions on what the differences are in our situation versus some of the other positions because you have a variety of offerings here today – from in-home care to nursing home care to behavioral health and hospital environments. So they have been very open in what is all available.”
One student who knows exactly the type of work he wants to pursue is Jonathan Sahagun, of Bloomfield. As a certified paramedic, the California native is pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing at Northeast and is looking to advance his career in healthcare by working in an emergency room, intensive care unit, or an operating room environment.
Sahagun said the career fair was a “fantastic” opportunity to visit with representatives of several organizations that are ready to hire and prepare students to move into their careers. He visited with several employers, but there was one group that was especially interested in him – hospitals.
“Well, they all seem to be very willing to talk to me,” he said with a chuckle, “if that’s any indication.” I think they’re looking for folks and they’re happy to be here and we’re happy that they are here, too.”
Sahagun said he has enjoyed his classes, calling Northeast a “great school.” He said the area is fortunate to have such an institution so close to home. He said events such as the career fair are especially important to students like himself who are preparing for a future in nursing.
The employers at the career fair are all hiring, which Uhing could attest to. She said one item many employers are offering is incentives to attract applicants.
“One thing we’re hearing today is that loan forgiveness piece. It makes a lot of sense to offer such an incentive to students who may graduate in May. They’re finishing up so they are looking for those places that can offer loan forgiveness.”
Wood said FRHS is offering something similar.
“Faith is currently implementing a lot of new things to try to bring in new nurses. Whether it be a student loan reimbursement hiring-on bonuses and things like that, they’re getting very creative to get new faces in the door.”
The Nursing Career Fair at Northeast was the first to be held in person in two-years, which all the over 40 employers at the event said they were pleased to be part of. Employers from four states participated with representatives of Craig Home Care of Wichita, Kan., traveling the farthest. They included hospitals, nursing care facilities, traveling nurse agencies, and in-home care businesses, among others.
Dr. Karen Weidner, director of nursing at Northeast, said the event was the largest of its kind at the college. She said both students and healthcare facilities benefitted from the interactions.
“The career fair provided students with the opportunity to explore various careers within nursing, interact with nurses and nurse leaders, learn about benefits and retention efforts, and enhance interviewing skills. Potential employers were able to interact with over 80 nursing students who are scheduled to graduate in May 2022 and be eligible to take the LPN or RN national exams.”
Weidner called the collaborative event between the Northeast Community College Nursing Program, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing - Northern Division, and healthcare facilities, a “win/win for all.”
Wood was joined by two other colleagues at the career fair – Morgan Matteo, manager of the ICU at FRHS, and Staci Kolm, manager of the hospital’s medical/surgical floor – both of whom are also Northeast nursing graduates. The three met with students non-stop during the two-hour event.
“This is great to have this back and to be able to do be able to do it in person. Trying to do this online the last couple of years was definitely not as effective, in my opinion,” he said. “It is fantastic to get out and meet people face-to-face and present them with everything we can offer. I’m very excited about this year.”
Ariella Cole, of Norfolk, a practical nursing student at Northeast Community College, visits with a representative of one of over 40 healthcare employers during the nursing program’s career fair recently on the Norfolk campus. Employers from four states participated with representatives from hospitals, nursing care facilities, traveling nurse agencies, and in-home care businesses, among others.