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Nursing students eager to finish, use their skills during pandemic

During a Thanksgiving day phone call with President-elect Joe Biden Mercy Health nurses said their greatest concern was staffing.

MUSKEGON, Mich — When President elect Job Biden and his wife Jill Biden called healthcare workers at Mercy Health's Muskegon hospital on Thanksgiving, they told him their greatest concern was staffing.

Muskegon County's case count has more than quadrupled since Oct. 1 and the number of COVID deaths in the county doubled in November.

The call lasted just over 4 minutes and ended with a "code blue" call on the floor, hospital staff had gathered to talk with the Biden's.

Staffing is a major concern at Mercy Health Muskegon and so many other hospitals around the United States. The need for additional staff has hospital administrators anxious for students to graduate from nursing programs like the one at Muskegon Community College. 

"We can't push them through," said MCC Director of Nursing and Health Programs Chris Patterson. "They have to get the whole experience."

The need for nurses was great before the pandemic, due to the number of nurses retiring.

"We had a lot of women that went into nursing and now those women are aging out," said Patterson.

That need has become even greater now with area nurses working double shifts, weekends, and overtime to care for patients, many of whom are hospitalized with COVID-19.

"When they are talking about nurses being heroes, who doesn't want to be a hero to somebody," said Patterson.

But Patterson says even with great demand for new nurses, the required classes and certification process can't be shortened. Currently, much of MCC's nursing instructions is done virtually, with the state allowing some exceptions for small groups of in-person instruction.

"We graduate at the end of April," said Jessica Grenell, a nursing student at MCC. She and others students in class Friday know the nursing profession will be demanding, but they say they're up to the challenge.

"Maybe I didn't sign up for a pandemic, but I knew what I was in for," said Elaine Coulson. "I knew what nursing was about because I was raised by a nurse."

"We're here to help people and that's what we want to do," added Nicole Brown.  

The students believe because the demand for nurses is high, after graduation they'll be in the drivers seat when it comes to selecting an employer and job.

"I'm excited for all of the doors that can open and I'm anxious to hit the ground running," said Coulson.

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