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Universities, high schools working to fight the nursing shortage in CT

(WTNH) – At some point, all of us will need the help of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. We assume there will always be enough of those medical professionals around to meet our needs, but that’s not necessarily given.

Like many states, Connecticut is on the verge of a shortage of those critical healthcare workers, but steps are now being taken to turn things around.

The future of healthcare in Connecticut includes talented young people like Lizzy Rocher. Special high school programs are giving kids a taste of what to expect when they enter the field.

“It definitely pushed me to really want to work in the medical field,” Rocher said.

“The assignment that you see, the patients that are coming in, just knowing you’re helping them, helping them feel better, it’s just a good feeling,” said Brittany Hernandez, Yale-New Haven Hospital Emergency Room Technician.

Rocher and Hernandez are both recent graduates of Career High School in New Haven. The kids in the allied health program there are getting hands-on medical training while also earning college credits, and their skills will be needed in the coming years.

“We are on the verge of a potential health crisis if we don’t address this,” said Lisa O’Conner, QU Dean of Nursing.

Lisa O’Conner, the Dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Nursing, says it’s anticipated that Connecticut will face a shortage of a thousand new nurses every year moving forward.

WEB EXTRA: Watch the full interview with Lisa O’Conner below:

So, how did we get here? There’s a burnout factor fueled by the stress of the ongoing pandemic, and the average age of a nurse in Connecticut is 50, so many feel now is the right time to retire.

“We don’t want to fatigue the nursing workforce any more than it has been given the pandemic,” O’Conner said.

To fill the void, 300 highly-trained nursing students will graduate from Quinnipiac this year, but they aren’t all 20-something-year-olds. The school also has a program for college graduates who may have spent decades working in other professions, and who want to move into nursing.

“In one calendar year, folks can get their nursing completely done, highly competent and really sough-after in the nursing workforce. They tend to be a little older, more diverse in race, and have a diversity of opinion, which are quite welcome in the workforce,” O’Conner said.

Back at Career High School, the allied health program has a much younger group of students learning about potential careers.

Rosalba Addario started it six years ago. The kids are learning everything from how to take a blood pressure reading to what it’s like to be an EMT dealing with a patient in distress.

“To make a good clinician, you need to balance both book smarts and the hands-on tactile skills,” Addario said.

Hernandez says she was a bit uncomfortable around the sight of blood when she walked into the program three years ago, but now she’s looking forward to a career in nursing.

“I got over that [fear],” Hernandez said.

Both Hernandez and Rocher have plans to attend nursing school in the coming years. Quinnipiac is also working with Yale, UConn, and major healthcare providers around the state to tackle the problem.