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Nursing Groups Target Teen-Agers

May 10, 2002

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ATLANTA (AP) _ To help deal with an increasing shortage in their profession, nurses are barraging students from middle school on up, teaching health education classes, attending PTA meetings and offering scholarships.

Their attention-getting tactics seem to be working.

At a national nurses convention Thursday, students drawn to exhibitor booths by stuffed animals, puzzle games and candy listened intently when information about the health care profession was sneaked into the conversation.

``I think I would love to do something like that because I could help people,″ said Sheara Beach, a 14-year-old who attended the convention along with 50 of her peers from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. ``I’m interested in going into it.″

By days end, she had been strapped into a gurney, sandwiched between two immobilizing pads, but was smiling ear to ear.

``Awareness is the key,″ said Melissa Cheeks, who works with Johnson & Johnson’s nurse-recruiting programs. ``Awareness not only of the shortage, but of the opportunities available in this career.″

As baby boomer nurses retire and their generation requires more health care, the nurse deficit could climb as high as 400,000 by 2010. Health care providers already need an additional 125,000 to 150,000 nurses, and the industry is battling poor workplace conditions and image problems in recruiting new nurses.

``It’s about nurses retiring and not having enough nurses in the profession,″ said Wanda Johanson, CEO of the American Association of Critical-care Nurses, which is meeting here this week. ``Nursing has some image issues _ that nurses are all female, that you just care, you don’t need a brain, that you just follow orders from doctors.″

AACN statistics show the average nurse is 45 years old, and only 18.3 percent of nurses were under 35 in 2000 _ compared with 40.5 percent in 1980.

The 2.7 million licensed registered nurses in the country in March 2000 was up just 137,666, or 5.4 percent, from the number in a 1996 survey, compared with an increase of 319,058, or 14.2 percent from 1992 to 1996, according to a national survey by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

More nurses _ about two out of five _ are choosing not to work in hospitals or nursing homes, opting for easier, better-paying jobs at health maintenance organizations or pharmaceutical companies.

Critical-care nurses _ from the emergency and operating rooms to neonatal care _ are in the greatest demand, said Dorrie Fontaine, AACN president-elect.

``Anywhere that patients are the sickest are the hardest hit″ by nurses seeking a less stressful environment, she said. ``Although the whole field needs more nurses, critical-care areas need the most.″

Ginger Marin, who home schools her two children in Forest Park, said the trip to the convention gave them ``a really up-close view of what they would use″ if they became doctors or nurses.

``It’s not like they’re going to get to go to a hospital and see everything,″ she said. ``And they love it _ they’re having a ball.″

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