CTH expands apprentice program to address nurse shortage

Carson Tahoe Health nurses in 2021.

Carson Tahoe Health nurses in 2021. Nevada Appeal, file

Going into the third year since COVID-19 changed the medical landscape, leaders at Carson Tahoe Health are finding ways to hire – and retain – nurses in the face of a state shortage.

“Carson Tahoe Health faces the same staffing challenges as other hospitals in Nevada,” said Michelle Miller, CTH vice president and head of human resources. “The Nevada Health Workforce Research Center estimates that Nevada needs an additional 4,290 RNs (registered nurses) and 3,439 LPNs (licensed practical nurses) to meet the national average.”

CTH leadership is taking proactive steps in the face of the shortage. One example is a recent expansion of CTH’s nurse apprentice program, which allows students enrolled in a nursing program to work alongside hospital staff.

“The nurse apprentice program is essential to aid with the shortage,” said Miller. “Over the years, we have had great success with these programs and have current leaders in our system now that started their nursing careers with us as apprentices – so clearly it helps with starting a full career path with us. We currently have 39 active apprentices in our program and are recruiting for more to join us in 2023.”

In a press release, CTH officials said the apprentice program expansion was made possible through an American Rescue Plan Act grant.

“This program allows our nurse apprentices the chance to get hands-on experience and be compensated for their work while they complete their education,” said Cindy Kuperus, associate chief nursing officer at CTH. “As a result, they are well-prepared to enter the workforce and more likely to find a field within nursing they are passionate about.”

According to CTH, the apprentice program increases “the likelihood of retention.”

“The NAP program has been in place since 2006 and, in the last six years alone, it has allowed CTH to hire nearly 100 nurse apprentices,” said the press release.

Agatha Gentile, CTH’s main operating room day charge, said apprenticeship was instrumental career-wise.

“Having personally started in the program as Carson Tahoe Health’s first OR nurse apprentice in 2006, this program gave me the opportunity to solidify my choice of becoming an OR nurse and has allowed me to stay and grow within the health-care field ever since,” Gentile said in the press release.

“The pandemic has certainly turned our organizational focus more toward retention so we can keep the staff we worked so hard to recruit,” added Miller.

Hospital personnel are also looking to social media to recruit health-care workers.

“Carson Tahoe Health is a member of the Nevada Hospital Association,” said Miller. “It launched an innovative program on TikTok and Instagram introducing young people to job opportunities in hospitals and encouraging them to pursue health-care careers.”

That initiative can be found on TikTok and Instagram @HospitalCareers.

Looking toward the future, Miller expressed support for Nevada entering an interstate nursing compact. Nevada District 40 Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill, a Republican who represents Carson City, has also expressed support for the measure as lawmakers approach a new legislative session.

“The Nurse Licensure Compact would be great for Nevada,” Miller said. “Approximately 37 states and two U.S. territories are members of the compact. It allows nurses to easily move from one compact state to another without obtaining a new license.”

Miller compared it to having a driver’s license.

“A nursing license issued in one compact state is accepted in all other compact states,” she said. “It greatly benefits nursing families that often move (i.e., military families) and it helps health-care providers during surge periods. Health-care providers can bring nurses into the state much faster. It would have helped greatly during the recent surge of pediatric respiratory cases.”

That surge in the Quad County area included a 7 percent increase, year over year, in RSV cases since the beginning of October. Respiratory syncytial virus can result in dangerous complications for infants and older adults.

On Dec. 16, O’Neill told the Appeal the bill draft request for the nurse compact appears to have bipartisan support. He said Democrats have opposed the measure in the past, but “the shortage of nurses has finally crossed over political lines.”

O’Neill, the Assembly minority leader, said he’ll examine the bill before supporting it but generally wants Nevada to enter the nurse compact.

“If it’s good policy for the state of Nevada, I will support it and try to garner support from the Republicans,” he said.

O’Neill also pointed to similar compacts for EMTs, physical therapists and other medical workers.

“These are compacts out there right now we can take advantage of immediately,” he said.

Miller encouraged those interested in nursing or other health-care work to visit the CTH site. She said there are currently 30 RN openings.

“We would love to welcome others who want to choose Carson Tahoe Health as their employer of choice and serve our community,” she said.

Applications for the apprentice program and other information can be found at https://carsontahoecareers.hctsportals.com/.


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