The need for nurses continues to increase in Montgomery County as incoming hospitals begin to hire staff and existing hospitals expand local health care services.

To meet the challenge, local colleges and universities are expanding nurse training programs and working with health care providers to ensure students are trained to seamlessly transition into the workforce following graduation, according to school officials, said Julie Kendall, nursing program director at Lone Star College-Montgomery.

“Montgomery County is one of the fastest-growing counties in Texas, and the population has doubled in the last 20 years,” Kendall said. “With our projected growth, these hospitals are really going to fill up, and we are going to need nurses to fill positions in those facilities to take care of those people.”

Need for nursesDemand for trained nurses grows

Demand for nurses has grown statewide in recent years. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state has a lower supply of nurses compared to the rest of the U.S. On average, there were 129 registered nurses for every 100,000 residents in Texas in 2015.

“We will face challenges meeting the demand because, in general, the supply ratio of nurses is low,” DSHS spokesperson Christine Mann said.

New hospitals under construction in Montgomery County, such as Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, are expanding local need for nurses.

The Houston Methodist campus will include about 240 nursing-related positions when it opens in
July 2017. The hospital plans to fill leadership positions in fall 2016 and staff positions by April 2017, HMTW Human Resources Director Debby Roberts said. Hiring for staff positions is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2017.

“We have laid out a very strategic timeline,” Roberts said. “We will also have a very comprehensive orientation program. We are building those programs now to plan how we will onboard individuals, how we will train and educate them.”

Similarly, Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands will also add more than 200 nursing positions to the local workforce when it opens in spring 2017.

“We are recruiting a wide variety of specialties, including critical care, acute care, emergency center and/or staff nurses,” said Michelle Riley-Brown, president of TCHTW.

Another factor increasing the need for nurses is a rising life expectancy, which means more nurses are needed to care for a growing number of elderly citizens, according to DSHS. The average life expectancy of Texas residents as of 2013 is 78.3 years, compared to 75.1 in 1990.

Additionally, Kendall said demand for nurses is increasing because many existing nurses are 50 years old and older—thus nearing retirement age.

“Right now in the state of Texas, 59,000 nurses are 50 years old or older,” Kendall said. “So if you look at that in the next five, 10 or 15 years, that is going to create a huge hole in the workforce.”

Nurse education programs Demand for trained nurses grows

Local colleges and universities continue to expand nurse-training programs to meet the demand from a growing Montgomery County population.

LSC-Montgomery and Sam Houston State University are negotiating a dual enrollment program that would streamline the transition for nursing students graduating from LSC-Montgomery and transfering to SHSU. The program would allow students to be simultaneously enrolled at SHSU as they complete the final semester of the LSC-Montgomery program.

“If we can get that implemented in the fall, that would be wonderful,” Kendall said. “Everything is based on approval on both sides.”

LSC-Montgomery offers two nursing degree plans: a one-year licensed vocational nursing degree and two-year associate degree plan. Graduates of the programs can become LVN’s or registered nurses respectively once they pass the National Council Licensure Examination.

Meanwhile, SHSU offers a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree, an RN to BSN degree plan and a LVN to BSN degree plan. The BSN program has added 20 students to its capacity every semester for several years and will reach a 240-student capacity this fall, said Anne Stiles, director of the SHSU School of Nursing.

“It is very competitive,” Stiles said. “We only accept about 1 out of 4 qualified applicants. We accept 60 students twice per year, and the average grade point average is over 3.7 out of a 4.0 scale.”

Health care partnerships Demand for trained nurses grows

Both LSC-Montgomery and SHSU have partnership arrangements with health care providers throughout the area. For example, students can enter internship programs at Conroe Regional Medical Center to gain hands-on experience while they attend school.

“We train nurses [who] come out of that degree program,” said Diana Howell, CRMC vice president of human resources. “We help develop their clinical skills so they can succeed on the floor when they are actually doing the job independently.”

Students participating in the program are able to shadow and create interpersonal connections with hospital nurses. At the same time, Howell said the hospital evaluates students in the work environment for future employment consideration.

“Local partnerships are very important,” Howell said. “It gives us an opportunity to see if [these students] would be a good fit in our organization.”