l Capital University Journal
program helps meet need for new nurses
many nursing students across the country, Suzanne McGee’s work experience
offers her a measure of stability. Instead of the usual rushing from
one clinical placement to another, she’s been working at Kaiser
Permanente in Roseville for the last six months through Sac State’s
unusual cooperative education program in nursing. She gets academic credit
for paid work in the Intensive Care Unit, exactly the type of work she
hopes to do after graduation.
“It’s giving me extra hours of experience, as well as units
and a salary,” McGee says. “I remember getting my first paycheck
and saying, ‘Wow, I get all that experience and they pay me, too.’”
It’s an opportunity that many Sac State students enjoy—the
University has the largest cooperative education program in the state.
But it was no simple matter setting it up for future nurses. The state
Board of Nursing had to give special permission for the program, which
allows students to spend more than a year with one nursing unit practicing
different types of skills.
The combination of paid, practical experience has kept the program going
strong for nearly a decade.
And in recent years, as the nursing shortage in the state and nation has
grown worse, the program has seen an explosion in popularity. There have
generally been about 15 nursing co-op students each semester, but by 2004
there were 78.
That’s good for the students and the hospitals, says Bonnie Raingruber,
the Sac State nursing professor who started the program and still serves
as its academic coordinator. She’s supported by Deborah Case of
the University’s cooperative education program, who works with
the employers and provides assistance to students—including orientation,
help with resumes and guidance on applying for positions.
“The students really get a sense of belonging,” Raingruber
says. “I think they develop skills better when they have more time
to practice in the same place. It makes them more confident. And for hospitals,
this is a great recruiting tool. Students get to know them, and they get
to know the students.”
Hospitals need all the recruiting help they can get. The United States
is in the midst of a nursing shortage that’s only expected to get
worse as Baby Boomers get older, according to the American Association
of Colleges of Nursing. Nearly three-quarters of hospital CEOs say their
facility is short of nurses, and the U.S. Department of Labor has identified
registered nursing as the top occupation for job growth through 2012.
In California, new rules designed to improve care will reduce the nurse-to-patient
ratio in coming years, which is expected to make the state’s nursing
shortage even worse.
Raingruber says some local hospitals have become so enamored with the
co-op program that they have staff assigned specifically to support the
program. There are more requests for students than the University can
To get into the program, students must show they’re highly competent
in the practical skills they learn on campus and during clinical rotations.
They also need strong recommendations from professors.
Students work primarily at large hospitals–UC Davis Medical Center,
Sutter Health and Kaiser are the largest employers–but there are
also some placements with private physicians and clinics. They’re
paid $13-$16 an hour and usually work 8 to 20 hours a week. And perhaps
most importantly, they’re able to independently carry out nursing
skills after they’ve demonstrated competence–including giving
medications, doing cauterizations and giving injections.
That’s much different than completing more than a dozen clinical
rotations in a 16-week semester, which all nursing students do to get
the required practical experience.
McGee, the nursing student, says that while the rotations were definitely
helpful, they were also a bit jolting.
“Just about the time you think ‘I’m really starting
to get this down’–then you’re done and on to something
else,” she says. “This program offers me a very safe way to
practice under supervision. It builds your confidence.”