Flint and Genesee County have seen many economic transitions over the last century and a half. We have gone from being a lumber town to a carriage town and spent much of the 20th century as an auto town. Now the future is taking us in a new direction, and today the health care area is one of the largest and the fastest-growing parts of the Genesee County economy. In 2010, 17.4% of the Flint workforce had health care or social assistance jobs, reports the Detroit Regional Chamber’s online data center. According to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget’s report “Demographic and Labor Market Profile: City of Flint,” while many other occupations have been declining in Flint, health care and associated occupations increased 34 percent between 1990 and 2015.
And one of the largest and most important elements of the medical community is nursing. Many local nurses found that their career paths began at one of three higher education institutions in Genesee County – Mott Community College, the University of Michigan-Flint or Baker College.
Mott Community College
Mott Community College’s nursing program is, by most measures, the oldest of the area’s three major nursing programs. It began in 1956 after absorbing much of the old St. Joseph Hospital’s nursing program. Fourteen students were admitted that year and they graduated in 1958. Since that time, Mott (or Flint Junior College) has seen over 4,500 nurses graduate from its program. In its earliest years, the Mott program provided 80 percent of the nurses in the area. Currently, there are about 300 students enrolled in the nursing program. The program admits about 80 new students twice a year, says Janet Westhoff, director of Mott’s nursing program.
Westhoff sees the career opportunities for nurses growing significantly in the future.
She feels that the most students are challenged by the intensity of the nursing program and the level of commitment that is required. Westhoff says that “Mott takes pride in the strong clinical background that it offers to its students.”
Like many nursing programs, Mott has a simulation laboratory where students can work on computer-simulated patients who can be programmed to display medical symptoms one might find in a real hospital or clinic. The goal of the laboratory simulations is to give students the ability to respond to a crisis and to work as a team with other medical professionals, without putting a patient at risk.
Westhoff says that the rapid growth of the medical field presents a new dilemma for many college nursing programs. As demands increase for nurses, colleges and universities are facing greater pressures to graduate more nurses. However, as nurses retire and the need for nurses grows in hospital and clinics, nursing schools are facing a new challenge – finding enough new nurses and faculty to teach them.
According to Westhoff, many of the students who earn their associate’s degree in nursing at Mott go on to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at other institutions, and one of the advantages she sees in the Mott program is that students can work as an RN while continuing their education. The nursing students at Mott are encouraged to continue their education and complete the BSN degree. With that in mind, Mott has partnered with a number of area colleges and universities where students can continue their education without duplication of courses.
The University of Michigan-Flint
The U of M-Flint, Genesee County’s second-oldest nursing program, grew out of Flint’s oldest nursing program. Hurley Medical Center offered the first nurse training program in the area with a diploma program that began in 1909. In the early 1970s the U of M-Flint provided off-campus programs for the Ann Arbor campus. After Hurley’s last class graduated in 1995, its staff collaborated with the U of M-Flint to offer a full baccalaureate nursing program. Within the last few months the program has transitioned from a department of nursing to a U of M-Flint School of Nursing.
There are about 1,100 students enrolled in a variety of nursing degrees. The U of M-Flint offers BSN, master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees as well as post-master’s specialty certificates. In the past 46 years there have been about 3,000 graduates. In a typical year, more than 300 students earn their BSN degrees at the Flint campus. In an October 2016 report to the U of M board, U of M-Flint Chancellor Susan E. Borrego said that more than 19 percent of the students at the Flint campus were enrolled in a nursing or pre-nursing program.
According to Margaret Andrews, interim dean of the School of Nursing, the Flint campus received recognition from U.S. News and World Report as one of the Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs and as one of the Best Online BSN Programs from CollegeChoice.net.
Andrews says that many people think nursing is only for women, but in fact about 15% of the nursing students are men, who often bring a military medical background to their nursing career.
As with the Mott program, one of the most impressive aspects is a high-tech simulation lab, where students can work on realistic, high-tech robots, which can be made to simulate a wide variety of medical conditions and crises. Led by Dr. Carman Turkelson, associate director of the Nursing Simulation Center and assistant professor of nursing, students have the opportunity to learn in a safe environment, where no one is injured because of mistakes. They also learn to work as a medical team in a realistic environment.
Yet, for as impressive as the computer-generated simulations were, what was probably more remarkable (at least to this outsider) were the discussions that followed in the debriefing room after a simulation. Led by faculty members, the student analyzed and discussed what was done right and what was done wrong in the simulation. Not only were the medical lessons examined, but also students learned to work as a medical team in dealing with complex problems. The dedication and commitment to their simulated patients was obvious as the students analyzed their handling of various medical problems and crises.
Baker College of Flint
Baker College became the third institution of higher learning to offer a nursing degree in the area when it first offered an associate’s degree program at its Flint campus in 2002. By 2015 it had announced a transition to offering only a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As was the case with all area colleges, Baker felt it was in the best interest of students to offer the degree that was becoming the preferred one for those entering the nursing profession. Baker’s final associate’s degree class graduated in March of this year.
There are about 700 Baker nursing graduates working in the area and about 100 students in Baker’s BSN program. Baker, like Mott and the U of M-Flint, sees a bright future for those going into nursing.
Nursing is a very rigorous program and requires focus and complete dedication.” — Renee Gilbert
According to Renee Gilbert, director of nursing at Baker College of Flint, “Nursing is such a diverse field that one can find a job in almost anything that interests them. Obviously hospitals and long-term/rehabilitation facilities hire RNs, but there are multiple opportunities, such as public health, schools, case management, insurance companies, administration, education, forensics [and] advanced practice. The opportunities are endless!”
Those opportunities come with many challenges. According to Gilbert, “The most common difficulty for new students when beginning a nursing program is time management! Nursing is a very rigorous program and requires focus and complete dedication. The coursework is intense and abundant, plus they must juggle labs and clinical rotations.”
But a nursing career offers both unique challenges and opportunities. “I also believe that most people, including students considering nursing careers, do not realize the amount of responsibility that nurses carry every day. It is only during their education that they learn this. Nurses are leaders in communication about caregiving and education for patients. A nurse works in the best interest of the patient, helps manage a patient’s care and is an integral part of the medical team,” says Gilbert.
“And, many students do not realize how the working schedules of nursing positions impact their personal lives. Employers need nurses 24/7, which means nurses work holidays, weekends and times when most others are sleeping. There are benefits to a nurse’s schedule, too. Many schedules are flexible, so one can work longer hours per day and have more days off in a week,” she says.
The rewards are also great. Gilbert says, “There’s no doubt that the most rewarding aspect of a nursing career is the impact on patients and their families. For educators, our most rewarding aspect of our jobs is the impact we have on our students and the future of health care.”
Clearly the three premier institutions of higher education in Genesee County are leading the drive for better health for all our residents with their nursing programs. But they are also leading the drive to improve the economic health of the area as we move from the economy we have known for the last century to a healthier future.