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Hartford nursing program trains next generation as shortage continues

Undergrad nursing enrollment is up at the University of Hartford this year.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Hospitals across the nation and here in Connecticut are in dire need of nurses as the healthcare industry faces a shortage and continues to deal with the pandemic.

Despite the pandemic, undergrad nursing enrollment is actually up this year at the University of Hartford (UHart). It's a relatively new program at the school that was launched in 2019 to try to help with the shortage.

UHart's first undergraduate nursing class will graduate in May 2023. It's a group that was entering the industry for clinical, or hands-on training at hospital sites, as the pandemic began.

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Nevaeh Mckinney will become a senior in the fall.

"My biggest thing is: just do the hardest thing that you can because oftentimes you’ll be able to overcome it and that’s how I’ve felt in my time here at UHart with the nursing school during the pandemic. It has been really, really hard but I look back on it and I’m like, ‘I did that,’ I can do so much more,” she said.

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Sherri Dayton, a registered nurse and Vice President of Healthcare for AFTCT, said the healthcare industry was already facing a shortage before the pandemic as nurses retired and there weren't enough people entering the workforce to replace them. She said once the pandemic hit, it only worsened the situation.

“We are definitely seeing it in my hospital. I don’t know that there’s any health care organization anywhere that isn’t feeling it right now,” Dayton said about the shortage. ”We’re at about 45 percent in the emergency department that I work at now, vacancy rate.”

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The healthcare industry is facing a slew of challenges on top of the pandemic: high patient-to-nurse ratios and increased demands.

“As nurses, we don’t get to have our lunch breaks. We barely have time to use the bathroom. Our PTO gets denied all the time,” Dayton said. "When you're talking about a position where other people’s lives are in your hands, it’s dangerous.”

The industry is also seeing a shortage of nurse educators.

The University is starting a new Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate program in the fall to train more teachers and expand undergraduate programs.

“It’s really geared to preparing leaders in nursing who can really make an impact," said Cesarina Thompson, Dean of the College of Education, Nursing & Health Professions at UHart.

Elisha Machado is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at emachado@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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