BANGOR, Maine — Beal University graduates three cohorts of nursing students every year, which totals about 100 students. That number will increase in January as the school expands to a Wilton campus.
The curriculum will be an exact copy of what is taught in Bangor, according to Dean of Nursing Dr. Colleen Koob. The new facility will have three classrooms, virtual teaching options, and a full-fundamental skills lab with 10 beds.
“We all know there’s a bit of a nursing shortage and COVID has truly highlighted that," Koob said.
The students at Beal have been doing their part to fill the shortage over the past year as the accelerated degree program, which will be offered at both campuses, takes 18 months or less to be completed.
A big focus in nursing school is in-person clinical hours where students work at hospitals a few times a week. COVID restrictions have limited some of those hours. But even before pandemic setbacks, Koob said many nursing schools would only send students to larger hospitals in Maine.
“But nobody’s using Rumford Hospital [or] Franklin Memorial as clinical sites," Koob added.
That was one reason Beal decided to expand westward. The current state of COVID is affecting every hospital in Maine, according to public health officials like Dr. Dora Mills of MaineHealth and Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. So, those rural hospitals need staffing help too.
Koob said she had experience working and teaching at hospitals in rural Maine and said it is a great spot for new nurses to find their footing in their careers. But she did offer advice to nurses looking for their first job in Maine.
“Because jobs are plenty out there, find the one that fits you — your style of nursing, but also your personality," Koob said.
Welcoming and training new nurses is part of Deb Sanford's job at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. The vice president of Nursing and Patient Services and said all nurses with less than six months of experience go through a 12-month residency program.
“It takes them from that novice [nurse], to an advanced beginner, to proficiency," Sanford said.
Because of COVID, the orientation program was adapted multiple times. Sanford found that several new nurses, like recent Beal graduates, did not have a lot of hands-on training in college, so that was something her staff wanted to address.
“But they’ve come with excitement and really want to make a difference," she said.
Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center also offers training programs for local nursing students during winter school break and the first summer after they graduate to help get them up to speed and replenish the workforce that has dealt with shortages for decades.
Beal University is already accepting students for its Wilton campus.