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Island faces nursing crisis

Regina Dill is a rare thing ­these days, a Bermudian interested in nursing. Out of approximately 530 nurses working for the Bermuda Hospitals Board, only 38 percent are Bermudian.

With 8,000 new people expected to reach senior citizen status in the next ten years, the BHB is desperate to recruit more local people interested in nursing as a career.

To try to encourage more young Bermudians they offer several nursing scholarships. This year, Ms Dill, and Selena Swan both received $5,000 scholarships to study nursing at the Bermuda College. At 27 years old, Ms Dill might be considered a mature student to be working for a first time degree.

“When I was a little girl my sister spent a lot of time in the paediatric unit here,” she said. “She was a chronic asthmatic. I used to look at how the nurses interacted with her and cared for her.”

Ms Dill did not go straight to nursing, however. She “dabbled” in banking, which she did not enjoy, and then enrolled in a dental hygiene programme in the United States where she lived for many years.

“That was similar to nursing,” she said. “You take the same core classes. When I was doing that, it was like a dead end unless I was going on to dental school to be a dentist. That was another thing that prompted me to go to nursing; it involves lifelong learning.”

She moved back to Bermuda with her ten year old son, recently. When she went to the Bermuda College to sign up for classes, she was surprised that they had a nursing programme.

“While I was there I met a lady who told me about the nursing programme,” she said. “I said, great. I met the nursing director and she looked at everything I had done and said I had already taken the prerequisites and could start my nursing classes.”

Ms Dill will graduate in 2015 with an Associate of Science degree. She will work for her full degree through an online education programme.

“After I graduate with an Associates of Science degree, I sit the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX),” she said. “If I pass that I become a qualified nurse. The scholarship made things a lot easier and less stressful. It gives me more time to focus on my studies and not be too focused on making money. Going to school, working and taking care of a ten year old can be quite challenging.”

While studying for her Associates, she will be doing clinical rotations at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH).

“That is when I would know what area I would like to work in, if I don't know already,” she said. “I would like to be exposed to the neonatal department. Not so much paediatrics, because the paediatrics ward here is a lot quieter. I want something in which I can stay busy.”

Ms Dill has also won other awards such as the Knowledge Quest scholarship and the Bermuda Nursing Association scholarship.

Judith Richardson, Chief of Nursing and Quality and Risk Management at KEMH, said the biggest shortage of nurses was in specialised areas such as critical care, emergency room nursing and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nursing.

“Psychiatric nursing is also one of our biggest needs,” she said.

Bermuda isn't alone in its struggle to recruit nurses there is a nursing shortage worldwide. And the current nursing population is an ageing one. The average age of a Bermudian nurse is 48 years old, and the average age of non-Bermudian nurses at the hospital is about 42. With many local nurses themselves soon to become a part of the retiring baby boomer generation, the need for nurses in all areas of care is forecast only for rapid growth.

“In the next ten years we are going to be especially hard hit,” said Ms Richardson. “We have to recruit the majority of our nurses from overseas.”

Most nurses recruited to Bermuda are from Jamaica, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. Some nurses from other countries use Bermuda as a stepping zone to get to the United States where pay packages are more lucrative than in Bermuda.

“Nursing has definitely become less popular, mainly because of the shift work,” said Patrice Dill, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute (MWI). “We also now require at least a four-year degree compared to previous years when we required a two or three year degree.”

Ms Richardson said, historically, Bermuda tended to encourage young people to study finance and business, and didn't put much emphasis on nursing.

“Nursing is hard,” she said. “It is a profession where you have to work with people, and you have to be caring. Nursing is a science and an art form and you have to work days, weekends, nights and holidays. The big picture might not look that keen for young people.”

Ms Dill said another problem was that many people who trained as nurses wanted nine to five jobs so they could maintain their families, which was understandable. This meant they often took the first job in a doctor's office they could find.

“There are lots of opportunities in nursing,” said Ms Richardson. “You can go as high in the profession as you want. You could be a bedside nurse or you could be a community health nurse, an office nurse or an insurance nurse, or you could work in academia and teach.”

To cope with the shortage the BHB has set up several training programmes for newly qualified nursing including dialysis, oncology, and perioperative care, among other places. They also provide scholarships to the best students in the nursing programme at the Bermuda College.

“We have done a good job trying to trouble shoot the areas that are difficult to fill,” said Ms Richardson. “We have a nursing staff education department that has helped to raise the bar for those training areas.”

She said nursing is demanding as you have to be highly skilled.

“You have to be passionate about providing the care,” she said. “We really need compassionate people who want to see people get back to their optimum level of health.”

Bermuda Hospitals Board nursing scholarship winner Regina Dill. Selena Swan also won a nursing scholarship.

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Published September 24, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 24, 2013 at 9:26 am)

Island faces nursing crisis

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