MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) — Nursing wasn't Dillon Smith's or Kathleen Bimbo's first career choice, but it's proved to be a better one.

Smith, who previously worked in public relations, and Bimbo, who held a variety of jobs including pastry chef, are in their last semester as nursing students at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, and they are looking forward to pursuing more "fulfilling" careers.

"Doing this, you really get to have a direct impact on people's lives and well-being," he said. "That's what draws me to it."

Smith and Bimbo agreed the number — and variety — of jobs available in nursing also made the career change attractive.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1.1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2022 across the U.S. due to retirements, an aging population and more access to health care through the Affordable Care Act.

The average age of a nurse in the U.S. is 47, and the Iowa Board of Nursing reports that nearly 45 percent of registered nurses in the state are 50 or older.

As of Feb. 23, there were more than 60 part-time and full-time nursing positions open at Mercy Medical Center, its online database states. On, there are more than 2,500 nursing positions in Iowa.

"It's nice to have that kind of security," Smith said.

The nursing shortage in Iowa and across the country has garnered the attention of NIACC and the University of Iowa, the Globe Gazette reported .

In early February, the two educational institutions announced an agreement, "RN to BSN 3+1," that will allow NIACC graduates to transfer to the University of Iowa to complete their Bachelors of Nursing Science degree online in one year.

Because the program is offered online, it'll give NIACC graduates the opportunity to join the workforce as they complete their degree.

"We just like to show it is possible. You can get your four-year degree through NIACC and Iowa in four years," said Laurie DeGroot, NIACC interim health division chair.

The program will be offered for the first time in the fall, and students who are in their fifth term at NIACC, like Smith and Bimbo, and have a 3.0 GPA will have the opportunity for early, automatic admission into the Iowa RN-BSN program.

After graduating this spring, Smith and Bimbo plan on applying for jobs in southeastern Minnesota and North Iowa, respectively, and taking advantage of a new program.

"It's great because at least we know that's in our future, and we don't have to stress about getting into a program," Bimbo said.

DeGroot said about 70 percent of NIACC nursing students express an interest in completing their bachelor's degree, but only about 20 percent do so. She's hoping the new agreement with the University of Iowa helps increase that number.

"We need more nurses," she said.

NIACC also has articulation agreements to complete baccalaureate degree in nursing with Allen College, Clarke University, Coe College, Dordt College, Grand View University, Iowa Wesleyan University, Mercy College of Health Sciences, Morningside College, Mount Mercy University, St. Ambrose University, University of Dubuque, Upper Iowa University and William Penn University.

Smith and Bimbo are among 106 students enrolled in NIACC's nursing programs, including licensed practical nurse and registered nurse.

DeGroot said NIACC will likely accept 80 students — maximum enrollment — into its nursing program next year due to an increased interest in nursing and students meeting the required prerequisites, which is a change from recent years.

"We have students who are ready to start the program, which we're glad to see," she said.


Information from: Globe Gazette,