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Report: Demand for Nurses in Maine on the Rise
04/15/2014   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

If you're contemplating a sure-fire career in Maine, think nursing. A new report on Maine's health occupations finds that nursing is the largest health occupation in the state - and growing. But along with the demand comes an expected shortage of health care professionals in Maine in the coming decades. Patty Wight reports.

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Report: Demand for Nurses in Maine on the Rise Listen

When Sherri Woodward was young, she considered two career options: nurse or cowgirl. She chose nursing, and 40 years into her career, Woodward works as chief nurse executive at Maine General Hospital in Augusta. Today she's checking in with nurses in the surgical unit.

Sherri Woodward: "I'm just stopping by to see how you're doing on getting your admissions up from the ED, or from the OR.

Nurse: "We're doing very well today. The charge nurse has been right on it this morning. We got four discharges out."

Woodward says nurses are the safety net for patients. "I think it's what makes us unique in the healthcare profession, that we really are the people that develop the relationships with the patients. They trust us, they depend on us."

What also makes nursing unique is that it's the largest health occupation in Maine, representing about 14,000 jobs that earn around $60,000 a year each. The number of nursing jobs is expected to climb another 20 percent within this decade.

That's according to the 2014 Health Occupations Report by the Maine Department of Labor. Research Analyst Paul Leparulo says healthcare is Maine's largest economic sector.

"If you look at the big picture of healthcare employment in Maine, it's really a remarkable history of employment - not just significant growth, but steady growth," Leparulo says. "So the health sector grew through downswings - you know, at the same time we were having recessions - increased employment every year since 1990."

The growth is driven, in part, by the health needs of an aging population. But that aging population also means people are going to retire and leave a lots of job vacancies, says Leparulo. "It's a two-edged sword, right? It's a driver, but it also creates challenges," because it requires specialized training to fill healthcare jobs.

And the report found that Maine has a limited pool of faculty to handle more students at colleges and universities. Even with a degree and license in hand, Nicole Morin-Scribner of St. Mary's Health System says some new grads in healthcare, such as nurses, don't have enough experience to work independently.

"As an employer, where we're paying attention to the cost of care is that we're reimbursed for one nurse providing care for the patient. But when we have a new grad, we really almost have to pay one-and-a-half or two people, because we want that level of support, as that new nurse is really gaining the experience to provide care."

Another barrier to hiring health professionals in Maine is competition, says Jeff Nevers of the University of New England. He says out-of-state employers are more proactive about attracting new grads.

"There's a certain window where they are very sort of inclined to stay in Maine, and then as they get a little closer to graduation, that window starts to close," Nevers says. "It's a matter of timing. and that's what I see at the intersection of education and industry. Timing is the single biggest factor."

Despite some of the challenges of filling healthcare jobs, nurse executive Sherri Woordward says nurses will play a critical role in health reform and the move toward more coordinated care.

"I think nursing is probably one of the most secure jobs that you can have," she says. "There are so many opportunities, and more and more are being developed every day."

Including at MaineGeneral, which is holding a nursing job fair on April 26th.

View the Department of Labor Health Occupations report.



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