Growing the nursing workforce

Like most health care organizations, UW Health continues to be challenged by a nationwide nursing shortage. Addressing the shortage, however, is not just a near-term objective but a long-term goal as well. Taking a proactive stance, UW Health has created new, innovative programs designed to both grow and diversify our nursing workforce while creating new pathways for career advancement and professional growth.

Befitting the reputation UW Health nurses have as national leaders, a first-of-its-kind Nurse Apprenticeship Program was recently launched. Funded by a generous seed gift from Verona-based Epic, this innovative program creates pathways to employment, training and advancement to join the nursing profession. Local community partnerships, educational support and a focus on diversity are all part of this effort to grow our nursing workforce.

The first cohort for this program will pull from selected UW Health entry-level clinical staff such as certified medical assistants (CMA) and certified nursing assistants (CNA), with future cohorts including external candidates to help grow our overall workforce.

“This Nurse Apprenticeship Program offers a comprehensive growth pathway like nothing we have ever seen before,” said Anne Mork, MS, MHCDS, RN, chief nursing officer, ambulatory and nursing support services. “We are excited to start opening the doors to employees who have wanted to pursue a career in nursing but could not afford it or take the necessary time away from work for their schooling. This Nurse Apprenticeship Program lets them work while they learn, covering all education expenses. It helps foster a culture of learning, support and professional growth by offering wrap-around support as necessary.”

August 2023 marked an exciting milestone as UW Health welcomed its inaugural cohort of RN apprentices.

ADN to BSN career path

In addition to increasing the number of ADN RNs through the Nurse Apprenticeship Program, UW Health offers an ADN to BSN (Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing) career path through a partnership with UW-Madison School of Nursing.

The first cohort of six ADN nurses was enrolled in Spring 2023, with an additional 50 ADN spots set aside for the Fall 2023 semester.

Funding limitations preclude every UW Health employee who wishes to participate from being accepted for enrollment. Accordingly, ADNs from inpatient and ambulatory units with the highest number of ADNs will be among the first ones invited to apply for enrollment in the ADN to BSN career path.

“Regardless of degree or title, every employee who interacts with patients is essential to ensuring outstanding patient care,” Mork said. “At the same time, the literature shows that health care systems with greater numbers of BSN prepared nurses have been shown to have better patient outcomes. BSN educated nurses are also better positioned for leadership, teaching and quality improvement opportunities. The Magnet organization endorses the Institute of Medicine’s 80% BSN recommendation for nursing and has set up the program to drive organizations to reaching and maintaining that threshold.”

Community partners making a difference

Karina Rohrer-Meck, a nurse and clinical information leader at Epic, said her company is pleased to help UW Health champion new solutions to challenges such as the nursing shortage.

“UW Health and the University of Wisconsin have a long tradition of serving as beacons of support, advancement and excellence in our community, and innovative programs like these build on that tradition,” Rohrer-Meck said. “We are happy to help them champion new solutions to such important challenges.”

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).