Amid a nationwide shortage of nurses, Western Kentucky University and Hardin Memorial Health are partnering to clear the way for nurses aspiring to advance their education and careers.

Mary Bennett, director of WKU’s School of Nursing, said the school will use its online nursing program to help Hardin Memorial Health’s licensed practical nurses train to be registered nurses. Bennett described the arrangement as a win-win situation.

“We were providing something they needed and they made it easy for us to do it,” she said.

Hardin Memorial Health, a 10-county network of health care providers in central Kentucky, will cover the tuition of its participants. They’ll be able to keep working full time while also pursuing an Associate of Science in Nursing and then take an exam to become registered nurses, according to a WKU news release.

WKU is delivering the online courses and offering advising and other services. Hardin Memorial will provide a clinical instructor and host training one day weekly, while the rest of the curriculum is taught online.

For Bennett, any step to reduce the nation’s nursing shortage is a positive.

“A lot of the baby boomers are retiring,” needing more care, she said.

Bennett has seen the shortage put increased pressure on current nurses through mandatory overtime and prompt hospitals to increasingly use traveling and foreign nurses.

She added her own nursing school is going to admit 120 nurses in the fall up from usually admitting 80 into its program.

“We’re trying to produce more nurses in a hurry,” she said.

Bennett also expects the partnership to make the school’s online nursing program more financially viable by ensuring it’s able to get full enrollment across the state.

“It’s making our numbers big enough that we can continue to offer this program,” she said.

Myra Covault, vice president and chief human resources officer for Hardin Memorial Health, said there are currently four participants and that the goal is to push for eight to 10 each semester.

“It allows us to invest in our own nursing staff to allow them to attain their nursing educational goals,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everybody, really.”

Nursing is already stressful, Covault said, adding that the nation’s aging baby boomer population is an additional challenge.

“Those factors come together and create this demand for nurses,” she said. “There’s just not enough of them across the country.”

The job outlook for registered nurses is expected to grow 16 percent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Greg Peel, an emergency department LPN with Hardin Memorial, said in a news release that college costs have kept him from achieving his goal of becoming a registered nurse. Now, at 56 years old, he’s looking forward to starting classes later this year.

“This program addresses every obstacle that prevented me from seeing my way through to my dream of becoming a registered nurse,” he said. “HMH will cover my tuition, and online classes allow me to work full time while pursuing a degree.”

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or at bgdailynews.com.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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