Despite mounting hardships at hospitals, Hawaii nursing programs see a rise in interest

"There’s a need for primary care. There’s a need for nurses. And there’s a gap between health care and the community."
Published: Jul. 27, 2022 at 5:38 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 27, 2022 at 5:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite years of COVID stresses and staffing shortages, student nursing programs in Hawaii are seeing a surprising trend ― a rise in interest.

The significant need for nurses drew Shelby-Rhianne Olipas in.

“I think by seeing and hearing all those stories, it pushed me all the more to answer the call to my community and assist those nurses who were in need,” said Olipas, a senior studying nursing at Hawaii Pacific University.

HPU’s graduate nursing program has seen its applications more the double over the last year.

“In the spite of COVID, we’ve actually seen that higher duty of care and calling come out from just student populations,” said Jana Stern, HPU director of Graduate Admissions and Admissions Operations.

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“What we’re trying to do is to improve access to quality education so that we can help deliver more nurses into the health care system here in Hawaii, and they can get good paying jobs and stay here.”

It’s a similar story for Chaminade University’s nursing program.

“What we’ve seen is a significant increase in enrollment of nursing programs, both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs,” said Pamela Smith, associate Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions.

“For example, nationwide in the past two years, Bachelor’s of Science and Nursing programs have risen between 3.5 to 6.6% over the past two years. Doctor of Nursing Practice programs has also risen 4 to 9%.”

Chaminade nursing student Ikona Kahana-Sanchez is getting real-world experience at the Queen’s West Medical Center during clinicals.

She said her mentors aren’t sugar-coating the situation.

“We see that they’re very understaffed and short staffed, and they’re really busy,” said Kahana-Sanchez. “They have a really big nurse-to-patient ratio.”

But she said that’s what drives her to this line of work.

“It really helped me to see that there’s a need for primary care, there’s a need for nurses, and that there’s a gap between health care and the community,” she said.

Kahana Sanchez lives in Wahiawa and saw her grandmother become ill. She said her grandmother prioritized the needs of her family before her own and didn’t make routine appointments.

She said that inspired her to become a Native Hawaiian Health Scholar and pursue community health. “I need to be the bridge between the disadvantaged and healthcare and build this relationship that’s trusting,” she said.

According to a recent access to care survey, the biggest barrier to recruitment has to do with the cost of living.

“The long-term fix is hiring more nurses,” said Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association. “And in order to do that, they’ve got to make their compensation packages better.”

Nursing students are eager to provide some relief.

“I felt very inspired to answer the call to my community and become a nurse,” said Olipas.

Added Kahana Sanchez: “I feel like we’re ready for the workforce.”

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