Firefighters, Military Are Hot Targets in Health Care

By Jessica Marquez

May. 18, 2007

WANTED: Candidates for nursing jobs. Must have worked in emergency situations. Previous medical training a bonus.

    It’s a profile that might seem difficult to fill, but officials in Michigan and New York discovered that they didn’t have to look very hard to find a group potential hires already suited up and ready to go.

    In the months that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks, Margie Clark, nursing careers department chair at Lansing Community College, remembers watching the images on television of reservists and active-duty military personnel responding to assist victims in New York and Washington.

    “I remember thinking how they have a lot of the same skills needed by nurses,” she says.

    On the East Coast, Mari Moriarty, manager of college relations at the Visiting Service of New York, a not-for-profit home health care agency with 11,750 workers, was thinking the same thing about New York firefighters.

    Her husband, Edward, was one of a number of firefighters who decided to retire after the terrorist attacks. He went back to school to get a nursing degree. It got Moriarty thinking about the recruiting potential in the departments. New York City firefighters can retire after 20 years, meaning that many of them, like her husband, were finding themselves in their 40s and looking for something else to do, she says.

    In early 2003, Moriarty held a series recruiting workshops that targeted New York firefighters and police. Often the workshops were standing room only. One brought in more than 200 participants, Moriarty says.

    One of the challenges with the recruiting initiative, however, is funding for the career changers. Unlike military personnel or displaced autoworkers, police and firefighters do not receive funding from the state or their employers for further education, Moriarty says. While they receive pensions, they don’t get money specifically for educational purposes.

    To address this, Moriarty and her team try to direct candidates to lower-price nursing programs at local schools like the City University of New York, she says.

    It’s still too early to say how successful the recruiting program is, since many of the firefighters are going to school part time while they continue to work. Completing an education that way can take years, Moriarty says.

    “Firefighters and police are scattered across all the nursing programs in the city,” she says. Today, the Visiting Service for New York employs 10 former police and firefighters, up from five such nurses four years ago.

    In Michigan, Clark has drafted a proposal to create a “bridge program” that would provide additional training to military medics to allow them to become registered nurses.

    Because of the war in Iraq, the number of returning veterans will increase in coming years, and this seems like a great opportunity for health care providers to recruit them, she says.

    “So many of these individuals come back with high skills but not many opportunities for high-paying jobs,” Clark says.

    Under Clark’s proposal, military bases across the country could be used as classrooms for military personnel with medical skills to receive training for nursing careers.

    “This is very doable,” she says. “But we need some funding to do it.” Clark is in the process of identifying funding opportunities for the proposal.

    Moriarty and Clark hope their initiatives will ignite the kind of creative thinking that they believe is necessary for the health care profession to address the nursing shortage.

    “It’s crucial to be inventive and do whatever we can to get people interested in our profession,” Moriarty says.

Workforce Management, May 7, 2007, p. 20Subscribe Now!

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with