Any thoughts or comments? From The State Hornet.

Of the six impacted majors at Sacramento State, it is no secret that nursing is one of the most difficult to break into.

Sac State’s nursing program was ranked 196th out of 449 universities’ nursing schools nationwide on U.S. News’s website in 2011. This means Sac State’s nursing program is in the top 44th percentile compared to the rest of the nation.

According to Sac State’s School of Nursing website, the department has established a competitive selection process since applications exceed program space.

Applicants to the clinical nursing program are considered on a 112-point system based on three categories – 50 points for GPA, 50 points for the Assessment Technologies Institute’s Test of Essential Academic Skills and 12 points for an Optional Criteria category.

Optional Criteria is broken down into four subcategories worth three points each, including bilingual language proficiency, health-related work experience, economic background and environmental background.

Students are then selected by rank from the points they have accumulated for admission into the program.

Senior nursing major Nathan Huckeba said pre-nursing students would be wise to know what they are getting into ahead of time.

“I think there’s a lot of folks out there that maybe are a little starry-eyed about the idea of being a nurse,” Huckeba said. “But they don’t maybe necessarily understand what all that entails. I know I sure didn’t.”

Huckeba said the application process itself would force people to realize how serious and cutthroat this line of work is.

“I think what’s most interesting just about the application process is you can really see how cut-and-dried it is,” Huckeba said. “You get a certain number of points for your GPA, you get a certain number of points for this standardized test you take and then you maybe get a couple discretionary points…and that’s it. You don’t write them a letter about how nice you are. It’s just straight numbers.”

Applicants also have to complete eight prerequisite courses – ranging from organic chemistry to anatomy and physiology to microbiology – as well as five corequisite courses, which are strongly recommended by the department to be done beforehand. Students must maintain a C- or higher in all of these classes.

The School of Nursing website notes the average GPA of nursing students selected for the clinical nursing program in fall 2012 was 3.9 with an average Test of Essential Academic Skills score of 87.5 percent. More than 320 people applied and only 80 were enrolled.

Due to the challenges of getting into the nursing program, some students said they had changed their majors because they felt discouraged as pre-nursing students.

One of those students, sophomore Cheng Nai Saetern, is working on switching her major from pre-nursing to child development.

“It’s hard to get into the pre-nursing program,” Saetern said. “I feel like I just don’t want to be (in the program)…I was trying to get into (chemistry). Just the teachers are saying that it’s hard to get in. So if you maybe get a B, your chances of getting into pre-nursing or the program (are) going to be low.”

Saetern said the fact so many other students were also striving to be nurses made her second-guess her choice in major.

Saetern also said the nursing department had sent her letters via email suggesting career alternatives such as recreational therapy in case she felt science classes were not for her.

Chairperson of Sac State’s School of Nursing Carolynn M. Goetze said students should anticipate such advising.

“For fall 2013, we have received (more than) 400 applications to our program for 80 seats,” Goetze said. “So, advising students about the realities of applying to nursing, the realities of the rigorous nature of our program, as well as alternatives for study for those students who should consider other program options should be expected.”

For the students who stick it out and work through the thorns of the program, one of their biggest concerns is finding a job after school.

Huckeba, for example, said he would be applying to nurse residency programs in Colorado once he finishes at Sac State.

As far as securing a job in Sacramento, Director of Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region’s Clinical Workforce Development Monica Small said graduating nurses should stay optimistic for the future.

“Prior to the downturn in the economy in 2009, the annual (registered nurse) vacancy rate was around 10 percent. Since 2009, the average annual vacancy rate for the Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region ran between two and three percent from normal turnover,” Small said. “In addition to this annual expected turnover, 25 percent of the Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region RN workforce are at retirement risk within the next three to five years, with that percentage increasing every year closer to 2020 as more ‘baby boomers’ reach retirement age. This trend for Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region mirrors the age trends in California.”

Small said hospitals in the Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region have recently implemented a nurse transition program called RN-STRONG, which stands for Supporting the Transition and Retention of New Graduates.

Unlike a nurse residency, which is usually a 12-week certification program used to build a new nurse’s resume and keep his or her skills sharp, Small said nurses in the year-long RN-STRONG program “are hired by whichever of the Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region affiliates is taking new graduates in their departments.”

After undergoing core orientation content for the first 12 weeks and approximately 160 hours of supplemental activities in the last 40 weeks, those with their RN license would then look for work for whichever department was willing to hire them on.

Although nursing positions are scarce at the moment, Small said more jobs are on the way for graduating nurses in the area.

“I can speak to Sutter’s philosophy. We want to be bringing on new graduates as much as possible,” Small said. “It’s a tough time for new graduates to break into the nursing (field) and land their first job. But they need to hang in there because once the postponed retirements start, the graduates will have many more opportunities than what’s available right now. This is temporary, even though it feels permanent.”