116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids hospitals have signed new agreements with local nursing schools, adding to the growing list of partnerships with area nursing programs as part of the effort to recruit locally trained staff in the midst of the ongoing health care staff shortage.
This year, Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital have formed partnerships with Cedar Rapids area programs to provide financial aid to nursing students in their final year of training. In exchange, these students agree to work at the hospitals after graduation.
Coe College nursing students now have the option to enroll in the program with Mercy as early as their sophomore year, which would provide students financial aid and part-time jobs at the hospital while finishing school.
Students will work at least 20 hours a month, with the option to pick up more shifts if it fits into their schedule. In addition, these students agree to an 18-month commitment as full-time nursing staff at the hospital after graduate.
As part of the agreement with St. Luke’s, Coe students will have tuition and fees of their final two terms covered as part of the program. They may also qualify for a sign-on bonus if they join select inpatient nursing units, such as critical care, behavioral health, the emergency department or operating rooms.
Coe students also will agree to a minimum of 18 months of employment post-graduation in a unit or department in critical need of staff.
Mollie Patzner is a senior Coe student and one of a handful of nursing students who have joined St. Luke’s Senior Student Promise Program. After graduation, she said she’s most interested in working in a critical care unit at the hospital, such as the ICU or emergency department.
Patzner said the financial aid and the guaranteed job through this program gives her peace of mind as she finishes her nursing degree and works at her part-time job as a traveling certified nursing assistant.
“I appreciated that I got to keep the job that I have now, and that I don’t have to try to start a new job along with starting another semester of nursing school,” Patzner said. “I also have the opportunity to work in any department that I want, once I get started.”
The heightened recruitment effort from the local hospitals comes as health care systems in Iowa — and across the country — struggle to maintain adequate staffing as the country begins to emerge from a daunting two-year pandemic.
The ongoing nursing shortage is in part driven by the lack of qualified candidates from nursing programs applying to these jobs, said Heide Bursch, chair of the Nursing Department at Coe College.
Studies within Iowa have highlighted this trend. Nearly 60 percent of health care organizations statewide say they have a shortage of qualified applicants for open nursing jobs, according to a 2020 report by Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Board of Nursing. Of those, 19 percent reported an “extreme” shortage and roughly 36 percent noted a “great” shortage.
“We don’t have enough applicants even to fill all the open spots we have at Coe College,” Bursch said. “And I know it’s the same for the other colleges in Iowa.”
Kirkwood partners with Mercy
This week, Mercy announced a new partnership with Kirkwood Community College for the upcoming fall semester, called the Mercy Earn and Learn program. It follows the same model offered to Coe students — nurses in training will receive financial aid and a part-time job, and after graduation, will receive a full-time position at Mercy.
Mercy officials said financial assistance will be determined based on their FAFSA, a federal student aid program, as well as their status as a part-time or full-time student. Full-time students could receive up to $6,000 per semester, and a part-time student can receive up to $3,000 per semester.
Kirkwood Dean of Nursing Kathy Dolter said this program would have a huge impact on students, as it lessens their financial stress and will enable them to learn skills on the job while still in training, increasing student success.
“This program is going to set our students up for success now and in the future, and that’s very exciting,” she said in a statement.
St. Luke’s previously announced a financial aid program for Kirkwood nursing students in April, which uses the same model as the program with Coe’s nursing school. This was the second program with a local nursing school the Cedar Rapids-based UnityPoint Health hospital had created.
These students, who are set to graduate in 2022 or 2023, would also be offered full-time positions in areas with the greatest need for staff.
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