By Kathy Driscoll, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CCM

Amid a nationwide shortage of nurses that shows no sign of easing, nurses and other clinicians are in high demand across all healthcare sectors. There is a shortage in every practice area, an aging population that creates even more demand for healthcare professionals who can care for them, and care is now being delivered in an even broader range of practice areas – both in person and virtually. The need for nurses to support this demand will only continue to grow.

As healthcare organizations, we focus on ways to retain the nurses we have today, recruit nurses to our organizations, and continuously explore new opportunities to be creative and innovative in these strategies. At the same time, we need to think about widening our pool of nurses and building pipelines for the future. We need to think about what folks in these pipelines need to inspire and support them to be our clinicians of the future. We cannot just look at people who have already chosen this career; we must look back further.

One of the ways that Humana’s Chief Nursing Organization is thinking about building a nursing pipeline is to expose middle school students to nurses and nursing so that they can learn about what it takes to become a nurse, the many types of practice areas that nurses can choose during their career, and the paths that nurses have taken to get to where they are today. It is never too early to spark young minds into thinking of a nursing career and to see themselves in the nurses they meet – men and women of various backgrounds and ethnicities. Reaching out to younger students to spark interest in nursing not only helps young people begin to focus on a rewarding and much-needed career choice, but it might also help the organizations who support these pipeline efforts develop and attract prospective clinicians of the future.

For example, Humana recently invited a group of Louisville, KY, students from the Grace James Academy of Excellence– an Afrocentric middle school that offers girls a curriculum heavy on science and math – to meet with some of their nurses. Students interested in health care met with the Chief Nursing Officer and Nursing Advisory Council member. They learned about the history of nursing, discussed nursing as a possible career, listened to nurses tell their stories, and got some hands-on time with essential tools of the trade, such as blood pressure monitors, stethoscopes, and thermometers. They even met with the CEO of the organization. Madison, one of the students who participated in the event, said she liked learning to use equipment to monitor blood pressure, heartbeat, and temperature. She said, “I really like to help people,” adding that she’s considering several possible careers in health care—labor and delivery nurse, pediatric oncologist, or orthodontist. “I think it’s been really cool that we got to experience this.” 

Humana’s Chief Nursing Organization is looking to hold similar networking events with young people in other locations, taking what they learned and replicating it with schools in their communities across the country.

Efforts like this are intrinsically rewarding for nurses allowing them the opportunity to open doors to young people and inspire them to be part of the most caring profession while also contributing to building a pipeline of nurses that is critically needed for our healthcare system. Let’s all think about ways to educate, inspire, and support future nurses – in whatever roles and areas of nursing and healthcare that interest them. Let us all share our ideas on expanding our pool of clinicians to support our future healthcare needs!

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Bio In her role as Chief Nursing Officer, Kathy oversees Humana’s strategy of improving the experience of Humana’s community of nurses, care managers and social workers, and promoting a culture that values, supports and inspires clinical professionals, and impacts health outcomes. Prior, Kathy served in various senior leadership roles at the company, including as Vice President and Chief of Operations at Humana At Home, where she led clinical operations focused on ongoing and transitions CM services for Medicare and Medicaid/ Duals members as well as private pay clients. Prior to Humana, Kathy was Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of SeniorBridge, a national Care Management and Homecare company acquired by Humana in 2012. Kathy is a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Nurses Foundation. She has more than 30 years experience in nursing, with a concentration in geriatrics, homecare, managed care, and care management. Kathy has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Seton Hall University, and a Master of Science in Nursing Executive Leadership from Sacred Heart University. She is a Registered Nurse licensed in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Connecticut, a Certified Case Manager and is a current member of The American Nurses Association, The Case Management Society of America, The American Organization of Nurse Leaders, and Sigma Theta Tau.