Penn State helps prepare region for likely nursing shortage

June 19, 2008

Workforce training partnership with Lewistown Hospital is increasing the supply of nurses in central Pennsylvania

University Park, Pa. — By 2010, Pennsylvania will be facing critical shortages of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), according to the Pennsylvania Center for Health Careers, which projects an ever-growing supply/demand gap. There could be shortages of as many as 16,000 RNs and 4,100 LPNs due to a growing elderly population, technological advances in health care and consumer preferences for in-home care. The aging of the nursing corps and a shortage of nursing instructors also are contributing to the shortages.

Lewistown Hospital is doing something to reverse this trend, and Penn State Continuing Education is helping. Together, the organizations are conducting the general education and science courses for nursing students through the Penn State Learning Center in Lewistown.

Kirk A. Gilbert, the center's science coordinator and rural health educator, leads this effort, which was initiated by the center's Director Tom Walker. Two of Gilbert’s best students, Brian Dietz and Troy Hartsock, used to work at Case New Holland, a farm equipment manufacturer in Belleville. Before being laid off, Dietz had assembled farm machinery there for almost 17 years, while Hartsock had worked as a welder for more than 19 years. Both are now retraining to become nurses as part of the Lewistown Hospital-Penn State workforce training partnership.

When they graduate in 2009 with an RN diploma, Dietz and Hartsock will have many new employment opportunities. "Clinical care is an occupation that's not dependent on the economy. We'll always have the human patient to care for," Gilbert said.

The potential for long-term employment is important to Dietz, 45, whose well-paying job out of high school enabled him to marry and raise three children in Lewistown Heights. With strong ties to the area, moving was not an option when he lost his job. Dietz considers the layoff "a blessing," because it enabled him to prepare for a career where he can make a difference in people's lives. "And nursing is a job I can have for the rest of my life," Dietz said.

Hartsock, 41, jumped at the chance to study nursing in Lewistown, where he and his wife, three children and grandson live. Welding brought in "good money," but a nursing career will give him more opportunities to work and live in Lewistown. "I always admired the field of nursing," he added.

Dietz and Hartsock are part of the School of Nursing's third class. The first class graduated in 2007, and all nine students have since passed their nursing boards, a required national RN licensure exam, and are working in central Pennsylvania, said Nursing School Director Mary Alyce Nelson. Another 18 nurses will graduate in August.

Lewistown Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Kay Hamilton added, "This is an absolutely wonderful partnership. Another important aspect of our collaboration with Penn State is that our graduates receive 33 credits toward a bachelor of nursing science degree when they are ready to continue their nursing education. This is a very successful program for our students.”

Penn State Continuing Education offers a venue for adults to return to the classroom. Continuing Education reaches more than 30,000 adult learners annually at Penn State campuses statewide. The unit also serves more than 220,000 Pennsylvania youth each year through summer academic and sport camps and other programs at Penn State campuses. Continuing Education is comprised of Conferences, Continuing Education at all Penn State campuses, Management Development Programs and Services, and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. For more information, visit online. Continuing Education is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 80 countries worldwide.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009