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M State nursing program excels

M State nursing students Becca Brink and Alycia Mulari check each other’s blood pressure as their nursing class practiced checking each other’s vital signs. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Take a look through any newspaper’s classified section and more than likely the longest list of jobs comes under the healthcare heading.

Healthcare will always be a need, and with an aging Baby Boomer population, the need continues to increase.

“There’s a lot of job security for us and we do know there is a huge job need here,” Becca Brink said.

Brink is a new nursing student at M State in Detroit Lakes, and she’s not the only one who knows about job security in the health field.

“I was looking for a new job and I saw RN, RN, RN. If I was going (to school), it should be in the health field,” M State student Alycia Mulari said.

“I always had an interest in it,” she added of nursing. “I followed my artistic passion first and it didn’t pan out. This is a new chapter in my life.”

And an employable chapter it should be, according to classifieds and state labor statistics. Nursing is one of the top five most needed occupations in the area.

Need for nurses

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s occupations in demand for Becker County and surrounding region, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses rank No. 4, registered nurses rank No. 5 and home health aides rank No. 6 in demand for this area.

Also according to the state statistics, in 2013, there were 118 nursing job vacancies in the northwest Minnesota region, which includes Becker County. One hundred percent required post-secondary schooling, 96 percent required certification or licensure and the median wage was over $17.50 an hour. That is for RNs.

The healthcare support occupations had 136 openings in 2013, 19 percent required-post secondary schooling and 79 percent required certification or licensure. Average wage was just under $10 an hour.

For more statistics on Minnesota employment, visit the state’s website at and look under “data.”

M State students

Brink said she has worked in home healthcare for several years and enjoys it. She is certified in several areas, including CPR and First Aid, but this will be her first degree.

She is working on her associate’s degree at M State and then plans to move on to a four-year college a couple years down the road for her bachelor’s degree.

“I don’t know all the details of this yet,” she said of her plans, but the broad picture has been painted.

With the variety of jobs that a nursing degree can get her, she said she’s “never gonna get bored” with options.

She said nursing is a good fit for her also because of the sense of gratification that comes from helping others, and it’s good to provide that quality of life for others.

Mulari said she’s either going into “bones or babies” once she’s done with her nursing degree.

“I like to take care of people,” she said, adding that she likes the guts and gore aspect, too.

The two students said that their nursing class has been fun — and funny. To get their vitals to vary throughout class so their fellow students can practice checking them, students will run up and down the college hallways or do jumping jacks. Brink and Mulari said they get strange looks from other students at times, but it’s just part of their day.

Instructor Cindy Moore said the demand for long-term care facilities in this area is especially high. In Detroit Lakes alone there are multiple facilities between Sanford, Essentia Health St. Mary’s and Ecumen, and the surrounding towns have plenty of opportunities as well, she said.

And that demand is for both RNs and LPNs.

She said that somewhere she heard that the demand for LPNs isn’t that high and there aren’t jobs for them, but “that’s just not true.”

Any job classified section will prove that.

“There’s a real need for LPNs in our long-term facilities, in our clinics. That’s where the LPN is really needed. That’s a big hole right now,” M State Dean of Nursing Jennifer Jacobson said.

“There’s a need for knowledgeable nurses in long-term care and home care type settings. People are going home sicker,” she added.

There used to be transitional care units in hospitals, and they are now being shifted into the long-term care units.

“Now, also, there are patients who don’t need the skilled nursing but they don’t need the hospital either, but they’re kind of in between the two,” she said. “But they’re not quite ready to go home.”

Increasing test scores

When it comes to preparing students for the nursing demand, M State has made a substantial push in the last couple years to increase the pass rates of professional licensing exam scores.

Nursing graduates of Minnesota State Community and Technical College (that includes Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena) had two of Minnesota’s highest 2013 pass rates on the professional licensing exams required for both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

Jacobson, who taught in Moorhead for several years before becoming dean a year ago, said M State had a dip in test scores for a while, and two years ago, they made a conscious push to get those scores up.

“We strengthened our eligibility criteria. The big predictors for nursing school are the science courses,” she said. “We took a hard look at the students applying to our program and their grades in their science courses. “The bottom line GPA at the bottom of a person’s transcripts wasn’t what we looked at. We looked at specific courses and the grades in those courses.”

And it worked.

Graduates of the M State associate degree nursing program, which trains RNs, had a first-time pass rate of 94 percent on the NCLEX exam, the top rate among all two-year colleges in Minnesota and the fourth-highest among graduates of all RN (associate degree and baccalaureate) nursing programs in the state.

The average pass rate was 80 percent in Minnesota and 81 percent nationally. There were 114 graduates taking the required test.

The 109 graduates of the practical nursing program recorded a first-time pass rate of more than 98 percent on the 2013 NCLEX-PN exam, the licensing exam for PNs. That was the second-highest rate among PN programs in the state.

The average first-time pass rate for PNs at Minnesota’s two-year colleges was 91 percent, and the national average was 84 percent.

Pass rates in the RN program rose from 74 percent in 2011, to 78 percent in 2012, to the current rate of 94 percent.

The 98 percent pass rate for PN graduates in 2013 is also an increase; the rates were 92 percent in 2011, and 91 percent in 2012.

“It’s an outstanding achievement that not only were we able to raise (our scores) but raise it significantly,” Jacobson said. “We were in the lower portion of the pass rates a year ago, and this year we were the highest pass rate for associated degree programs in Minnesota. That was exciting for our program.”

Getting into the nursing program at M State is tougher than some realize. Moore said not only are high school grade point averages taken into consideration, potential students must also test into the nursing program.

“It’s pretty highly competitive,” she said.

It’s good to get these younger nurses in, getting educated and learning the trade. Jacobson said the average age of nurses is increasing, so not only is there a need for the already sick population in the healthcare facilities, but there is a need to fill the shoes of the nurses getting ready to retire as well.

“We need nurses, we need nurse educators, we need bedside nurses, long-term care nurses for sure. It’s a good time to look at nursing,” Jacobson said.

“We will always need nurses. Nursing is portable. Once you become a nurse somewhere, you can take it with you almost anywhere you go,” she said.

“There are jobs in nursing we probably don’t even know about. If you can think it, you can probably do it. There are all kinds of things a nurse can do.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.