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Nurses needed to fulfill calling at Medical Center

Published on Thursday, February 25, 2016

By: Ruth Cummins

In her 20 years as a nurse, Angela Glass has cared for a variety of patients. But for the last four years, she's devoted her career to patients who allow her to make a difference: kids with psychiatric challenges at Batson Children's Hospital.

“I like the treatment team approach here,” she said of fellow front-line caregivers who have a calling for a job that requires a big heart. “Your opinion is really valued.”

That's just part of the reason Glass wants to be a nurse at Batson, part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She's among more than 2,000 nurses who choose the Medical Center as their employer for reasons ranging from educational opportunities to competitive pay to working with specialists found nowhere else in the state.

And as the Medical Center's 722 beds stay filled, the need for nurses grows daily.  So after providing a market-driven salary boost for most nursing staff earlier this month, UMMC is on the hunt for new nursing talent.  That's a “new normal” as most hospitals deal with a national shortage of nurses.

Portrait of Terri Gillespie

“We are proud of and dedicated to our mission of providing the highest level of care to the citizens of our great state, and with that commitment comes challenges,” said Terri Gillespie, the Medical Center's chief nursing executive officer.

That campus' largest hospital “frequently operates at a capacity level greater than 95 percent, including at the newest medical surgical unit in the Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants. To manage this type capacity requires that the nursing workforce be nimble, and I am proud to say that our nursing workforce is committed to meeting this challenge every day,” Gillespie said.

The dynamic nature of working at an ever-growing academic medical center attracts many nurses to UMMC, said Victoria Gholar, a career nurse who now serves the Medical Center's director of talent acquisition. That resonates with many other employees, with the Medical Center being named by the Jackson Free Press as “Best Place to Work” in the newspaper's annual Best of Jackson survey.

Jennifer Hill, a registered nurse in the NICU, takes the temperature of a tiny baby. Hill has been a nurse for about two years.
Jennifer Hill, a registered nurse in the NICU, takes the temperature of a tiny baby. Hill has been a nurse for about two years.

“You see the traumas. You see the tiny babies who are in great need of care in our Level 4 NICU,” Gholar said. “You see our AirCare flight nurses at work. No one else has that.”

Working at the state's only Level 1 trauma center, on a campus that houses four separate hospitals, gives nurses the chance to enhance their skills as they watch other students and employees do the same. “We train residents, medical students, pharmacy students, nurses and students in many other areas of health care,” Gholar said. “You're always learning here. Having your voice heard as a true member of the treatment team here really makes a difference.”

Registered nurse Shane Wilbourne said one of the best things about his job is the camaraderie with fellow nurses who join him in caring for patients in the state's only organ transplant program. “I've found a good home here on 2 South,” he said. “The coworkers and management are exceptional. It's just the mecca of Mississippi.

Shane Wilbourne (right) checks kidney transplant recipient Gregory Rodgers of Canton to make sure he's ready to be discharged.
Shane Wilbourne (right) checks kidney transplant recipient Gregory Rodgers of Canton to make sure he's ready to be discharged.

“With the acuity of the patient, you learn so much,” he said. “The technology is amazing. You can completely take a patient's liver and transplant it and make it work. It's amazing to see how well the patients do after surgery. They're looking at you and talking. It's amazing how the doctors can do that.”

Medical Center recruiters seek specific qualities in potential nurse hires, Gholar said. While acknowledging that compensation matters, she said, “We look for nurses with great compassion and who do this because they have a heart for it. We want nurses with a genuine concern for the care of patients, who have great critical thinking skills and who know how to problem solve.”

“We welcome nurses of varied education levels at our hospitals,” Gillespie said. “As an academic medical center, there is obviously an emphasis on education, and nurses are encouraged and supported in their endeavors to attain higher degrees if desired.”

UMMC annually hires about 150-200 new nursing graduates, and experienced nurses are heavily recruited. “Our greatest need is oncology nurses,” Gholar said. “We want nurses who really want to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families.”

“It's important to have veteran nurses who can mentor the new nurses. You have to have a balance,” said Adrienne Murray, director of nursing quality, development and professional practice. “We are looking for people who want to be part of something bigger than themselves and want to be the best of the best.”

Jennifer Clay encourages patient Donald Dean of Shelby as he gains strength and gets back on his feet.
Jennifer Clay encourages patient Donald Dean of Shelby as he gains strength and gets back on his feet.

One of those veterans is Jennifer Clay, a Medical Center nurse since 2002 who now works with post-surgery orthopaedic patients.  “I like my floor because we have great teamwork,” Clay said. “We're a family. This is my home.”'

Both day and night nursing shifts are available, with most being 12-hour shifts. “Managers are often open to discussing other options,” Gholar said. “You could be off four days during the week, depending on your schedule, and have that much more time with your family.”

Nurses needing flexibility can join the Medical Center's float pool. That means they're called to work on days when staffing is short, but can become full-time employees later if they desire. “Nurses sometimes take jobs based on what's going on in their life at that time,” Murray said.

But whatever their assignment, caring and skilled nurses are in demand. “We're at capacity today. We are bursting at the seams,” Murray said this week. Wiser's fourth floor, she said, is actively recruiting nurses to care for the overflow of patients from the Adult Hospital.

Other job perks are unique to the Medical Center. “All employees can take six credit hours per semester free at either the University of Mississippi or UMMC,” Gholar said. “Our School of Nursing offers programs up to the Ph.D. and Doctor of Nursing Practice levels. We have so many employment opportunities for advancement in management, education, quality and many more.”

The Medical Center also offers tuition reimbursement of up to $1,000 per fiscal year, with a maximum benefit of $3,000, for full-time nurses taking classes on another campus. Insurance options are broad, ranging from health to dental to life to critical care. “Individual health coverage is $38 a month for a select plan, and if an employee chooses the base insurance plan, it's free. That is hard to beat,” Gholar said.

Like all employees at UMMC, nurses are state employees and are members of the state's Public Employees Retirement System. Employees contribute a mandatory 9 percent of their gross salary per paycheck to the state retirement system - but UMMC contributes an additional 15.75 percent of the vested employee's gross salary per paycheck.

Although the state retirement benefits are generous, many younger nurses want the option of having that money now. If that's a competitive disadvantage in the labor market, it's offset by many other factors offered by UMMC.

Wilbourne changed careers and realized a childhood dream when he was hired at the Medical Center.

“I owned a glass business. I sold everything I had and took a leap of faith,” said Wilbourne, who began work last May after finishing nursing school. “I'm so proud of what I did.”

Glass, too, is living her dream - and has Gholar to thank for it. Gholar recruited her, and every Christmas, Glass brings her a small gift to show her appreciation.

“I told her I wouldn't be this happy if not for her. I'm always smiling,” Glass said. “I love my job.”