While their high school classmates were gearing up for the last summer before college, Plano sisters Christina and Samantha Liu headed to the hospital.
No, they weren’t sick; they were going to work.
The Lius are part of Texas Health Resources’ Youth Prodigy Program, a program designed to create a pipeline of future nurses by providing a framework that guides the teens from high school to a professional healthcare career. Up to 25 students each year are accepted into the program each, and it begins with an eight-week training period. After those eight weeks, the students who pass a national patient care technician test are then granted part-time positions at Texas Health hospitals across North Texas. Students work part-time at a THR hospital while working toward their nursing degrees; THR also helps cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and supplies.
“Being 18 and going straight into what you want to do for the rest for your life is kind of scary, but going into it with a peer group and focusing on what we’re going to be doing is a good reassurance,” said Christina, now 21.
The program started in 2006, and was launched after CEO Doug Hawthorne saw a similar program at the Cleveland Clinic.
“THR sees the project as an opportunity to invest in the youth of the community,” said Kevin Kiley, manager of career and management development for THR. “It’s a win-win. New high school grads have an opportunity to enter a pipeline, and they do that in a way that the whole THR system supports them through the whole journey.”
Christina currently works in the telemetry unit at Texas Health Plano, while Samantha cares for patients in the bariatric unit.
“Graduating as a registered nurse was one of my proudest moments,” said Samantha, 23. “I love how there is so much variety in my career, and the opportunity that the Prodigy Program offered me by letting me work in different patient care areas, and get to know the hospital and medical system when I was a PCT.”
The program is also an opportunity for teens to get into a market—especially in Texas—that’s growing increasingly competitive.
The number of new registered nurse graduates has more than doubled in the past decade, according to Vanderbilt University professor Peter Buerhaus. He said there has been a rapid growth in the number of programs offered by private, for-profit schools. Fewer than 20 for-profit programs produced fewer than 400 graduates in 2002, he said, compared with more than 200 programs graduating 19,000 in 2012.
The number of nurses earning bachelor’s degrees is now exceeding those earning two-year degrees, as well.
Nurses with bachelor’s and master’s degrees are more likely to receive a job offer upon graduation than any other field, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. About two-thirds had offers at the time of graduation and about 90 percent were employed four to six months after graduation.
Texas is especially swamped. In the past 12 months, Baylor Scott & White has received nearly 25,000 applications for about 4,000 openings, according to Rosemary Luquire, senior vice president and chief nursing officer. And Chris Loy, director of human resources for Methodist Richardson Medical Center, said the facility has received more than 14 applications for every posted nursing opening.
“The reason these individuals make great nurses is because they’re gaining clinical experience in THR hospitals,” Kiley said. “And that’s atypical for a newly earned RN. That individual has worked hard in the academic world, however students in the prodigy program aren’t just being support financially, they’re out gaining clinical experience with patients and their families.”