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Nursing shortage forces LI hospitals to offer in-house training

Intensive care nurse Raquel Fuentes works in the

Intensive care nurse Raquel Fuentes works in the ICU at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Experienced registered nurses with specialized skills are in such short supply on Long Island that hospitals have developed programs to help fill the void.

Health systems have created internal training programs, in which registered nurses get hands-on training to work in emergency care, critical care or an operating room.

The fellowships, as they’re called at some hospitals, also include simulations, seminars and online tests.

Registered nurses are in demand throughout Long Island, according to the state Labor Department. The state forecasts a 15 percent increase in the number of registered nurses between 2012 and 2022. There were 25,340 registered nurses on the Island as of the first quarter of 2016, according to the state.

Health care experts said the expansion is happening because Long Island is a graying market and more individuals have access to health care. Census data shows that 15.4 percent of Long Islanders were over 65 in 2015, compared to 14.1 percent across the country.

Nassau University Medical Center runs a program for registered nurses who are interested in working in areas such as the intensive care unit.

“Specialized nurses are very hard to find,” said Victor F. Politi, president and chief executive at NuHealth, which runs NUMC. “So we started our own fellowship, where if someone on staff is interested, we put them through the program. We’ve taken our own nurses and upgraded them and then backfill their old jobs.”

NUMC also brings recent graduates into the fellowship program. Raquel Fuentes joined the East Meadow hospital in 2011 after graduating from Hunter College.

“For newer nurses it was harder to find a job in an ICU because they’re looking for people with two or three years of experience,” said Fuentes, a registered nurse. “I went through the six-month fellowship and was able to get a job in the ICU. It was a great way to ease into the hospital setting.”

Fuentes has worked in the surgical intensive care unit since 2012.

South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside had about 20 nurses go through emergency room or operating room training in the last year, said Paul D. Giordano, senior vice president of human resources at the hospital. The training program runs nine months to a year, he said.

Northwell Health has run a critical-care fellowship program since 2005, said Kathleen Gallo, senior vice president and chief learning officer at the health system, which is the largest private employer in the state.

She said critical-care nurses are “not there” in the open market.

“There is little incentive for nurses to jump from one hospital to another,” Gallo said. “We’ve put more than 1,000 nurses through our critical-care fellowship.”

Fellowship programs are a “tremendously effective method for developing a pipeline,” said Elaine Smith, acting dean for the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University.

“You can’t, within a framework of an undergraduate program, be able to specialize right out of the box,” Smith added.

Critical-care fellowship programs are growing in popularity, said Kevin Dahill, president and chief executive of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, which represents 23 member hospitals on Long Island.

“The need for critical care has grown,” Dahill said. “Hospitals are required to be a second training source, so they can help these nurses evolve their critical-care skills.”

Health systems are drawing from a growing pool of entry-evel registered nurses. Most area nursing schools said interest in their programs is up.

Stony Brook University, St. Joseph’s College, Adelphi University, Hofstra University, Molloy College and Farmingdale State all said there has been an increase in the number of applicants to their undergraduate programs.

“Nursing as a career choice is very desirable, so I’m not surprised,” said Maria Fletcher, director of the department of nursing at St. Joseph’s College. “You can come out of college and easily make $70,000 as a registered nurse, and that’s being conservative. Not many careers can say that.”

Registered nurses earn a median salary of $86,940, and highly experienced registered nurses make about $96,000, the state Labor Department said.


15 percent. Projected increase in the number of registered nurses on Long Island between 2012 and 2022.

Source: New York State Department of Labor

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