Every state is feeling the nursing shortage, and the latest predictions are that Pennsylvania will lack almost 300,000 healthcare workers by 2026—and that number includes more than 20,000 nurses.
Wayne Reich, MSN, MBA, RN, and CEO of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (PSNA), told ABC27 TV in early May that working conditions are not great.
“With COVID, and even before COVID, the conditions at the bedside have gotten worse,” he said. “The number of nurses practicing at the bedside has decreased because of burnout, stresses, and decreased staffing.”
Now PSNA’s membership is taking matters into its own hands to attract and develop nurses, staring in grades 9–12, says the association’s president Betsy M. Snook, MED, BSN, RN. It’s the Pennsylvania Nurses Middle College Charter School (PNMC), and it’s currently “under development” as a preparatory school-to-college-to-career pathway and pipeline for Harrisburg students.
Harrisburg in Dauphin County will also be home to the new school, which will offer a tuition-free program that prepares students for a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) at a college or university. In addition to bolstering the state’s nurse workforce, the program promises to increase diversity in the nursing profession. Students will be admitted via a lottery if more apply than there are slots for.
The school will follow a STEM model, with an integrated curriculum that focuses on nursing theories, processes, concepts, and workforce development.
Snook told the Central Penn Business Journal that no other state program does this, and made the distinction between PNMC’s and other allied health programs.
A similar model, and the first in the nation, the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter High School in Providence, has graduated two classes, in 2020 and 2021. New York is also planning to do the same, and to affiliate with the Albany City School District.
PNMC had applied to the Harrisburg School District in July 2021, aiming to open its doors for this school year and was denied, just as it was during a first round in February 2020. A spokesperson for the board cited issues with the curriculum, which Snook refutes, as well as with support services for English language learners and minority students. Snook also says that those concerns were unwarranted.
Now the association is readying a capital campaign, the journal reports, not for a charter school but a privately-funded school, still free to students—there’s a donate button on the PSNA site.
Snook said in the journal interview that prospects for students’ admission to college are strong, with 10 universities having agreed to accept students from PNMC via letters of support, and local Harrisburg Area Community College will issue nurse aide certificates when students graduate from school.
Another added feature makes the program truly unique. Parents or guardians of PNMC can attend the community college’s nurse aide program.
Many have reasons to believe the idea’s time has come.
The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania’s latest workforce report found that the vacancy rates for registered nurses providing direct patient care between 2019-2021 increased from 21 percent to 27 percent.
Hospitals said the number one barrier to employing staff was finding qualified individuals at 90 percent.
The free charter school aims to help change that number in the future.