WNMU School of Nursing Works to Address the State’s Critical Nursing Shortage

© Western New Mexico University

A report released in May 2024 by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions found that there were 6,017 unfilled registered nurse positions statewide this spring. Shortages in nursing staff have been linked to a higher level of error in patient care, adverse patient outcomes, and increased mortality.

WNMU is positioned to help expand the state’s nursing workforce through its School of Nursing and Kinesiology. Since WNMU graduated its first class of nursing students in 1993, the university’s programs in nursing have changed and grown, but the school’s role in meeting community needs has remained a common thread.

The university first developed an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) in response to requests from area health agencies and community members who saw the need for more nurses to serve southwest New Mexico.  Today, the university offers both BSN and MSN programs and also offers an accelerated RN to MSN option. In addition to the nursing programs, the university offers programs in Phlebotomy and Certified Nursing Assistant, and it is looking to expand into other much-in-demand health care workforce training, such as Pharmacy Technician.

These programs have become a lifeline for health care organizations in southwest New Mexico. According to Ron Green, who serves as Chief Nursing Officer at Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC), WNMU plays a crucial role in educating future nurses in particular. “The hospital has definitely been impacted by WNMU,” said Green. “A high percentage of the nurses [at GRMC] are graduates of WNMU. If you look at the cancer center, all of our nurses are graduates of WNMU, and they provide exceptional care.”

Green said that in addition to benefitting GRMC, other health care organizations in the region have also felt the university’s impact on the nursing workforce. “Having WNMU here for us—for Deming [and] for Las Cruces, even—is key,” he said.

Green, who is a WNMU graduate himself (ADN ’95, BAS ’99), said that the university gave him the opportunity to stay in his local community and “choose a career that was sustaining and had opportunity for growth.”

Green’s experience is not uncommon among WNMU nursing graduates. Kimberly Petrovic, Associate Professor of Nursing and Associate Dean for the School of Nursing and Kinesiology, noted that “80% or more of our pre-licensure BSN graduates have remained in the region over the past four to five years (and longer). We expect that this will continue to be the case, especially because the majority of our students in this track of the BSN program are from the region and tend to stay in the region.”

WNMU nursing graduates are especially prepared to provide the kind of care needed in rural parts of the state because they get hands-on experience through GRMC and other area health care facilities. “We get to help students through their journey in nursing school by providing clinicals for them and giving them a feel for what the hospital is,” said Green.

“For a very small hospital,” he said, “GRMC provides a diversity of services, including surgery, a small ICU, a cancer center, and an emergency room. “Our emergency room is busy for such a small, rural community, …  so it offers a great experience for student nurses.”

The WNMU nursing students “come with a very good foundation when they come into clinicals,” Green added. “The clinical staff from WNMU are with them in the rooms, they are supporting them, and giving that extra guidance, which is key. They have strong support throughout their clinicals, both from Gila Regional Medical Center nurses and from their own instructors.”

Between this clinical experience, their academic coursework, and their training in the nursing simulation lab, WNMU nursing graduates are equipped to provide the care that rural New Mexico so desperately needs. “Graduating from our BSN program provides current and potential nursing students with opportunities to work in familiar communities and to give back to the region,” said Petrovic.

Green emphasized that WNMU is doing more than just providing area hospitals, clinics, and nursing facilities with registered nurses. “They are providing us with folks that love our community, that want to stay in our community, and they want to serve our community,” he said. Having the nursing programs at WNMU “allows them to do that while have a rewarding career. We are meeting the needs of our neighbors, our families, our friends.”

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