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USM Nursing Partners with Local Hospital to Address Nursing Shortage

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 03:42pm | By: Margaret Ann Macloud

USM nursing students gain valuable skills in the USM Clinical Simulation Center Coordinator (submitted photo). The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP) is partnering with Merit Health Wesley in Hattiesburg in the Spring 2022 semester to add two of the hospital’s nurses to the University’s clinical teaching faculty, with plans in place to soon do the same with other partners in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast. The goal of this partnership is to reduce the nursing shortage by increasing the number of USM nursing graduates who start working in a Mississippi healthcare setting while assisting the University in increasing its clinical faculty to expand enrollment capacity.

The shortage of nurses in Mississippi has been intensified with each new variant of COVID-19. The Mississippi Hospital Association reports approximately 3,000 total nursing vacancies in the state. The Embedded Clinical Faculty model at USM will use a practicing nurse with a graduate degree as the students’ clinical instructor, which helps the hospital by having more hands on-deck while providing the students a more enriching experience by directly learning under a nurse who practices at the clinical site. A similar model is already in use by USM’s nurse anesthesia program.

“The Delta variant exacerbated the already existing nursing shortage, and then the Omicron variant made the situation even more dire,” said Dr. Lachel Story, Professor and Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions. “The nursing shortage requires all of us working together in new ways to begin addressing the immediate crisis, as well as the long-term impact that will no doubt be felt for years to come.”

“The nursing shortage has created some difficult times for hospitals across the country, as well as in the Pine Belt,” said Phebe McKay, Chief Nursing Officer at Merit Health Wesley. “It has also sparked our ingenuity as we search for more solutions to entice nurses to remain on staff and continue to create a workplace that supports nursing staff. Education is the bedrock for growing the population of skilled nurses, and by educating nurses inside of our facility, we hope to shift the tide. More nurses mean we can continue to provide services vital to our community.”

The addition of Embedded Clinical Faculty does not come at a cost to the University, as Merit Health Wesley will continue to pay their employees as the role of instructor is added to their job. Achieving a critical mass of embedded faculty will ultimately enable the CNHP to expand enrollment capacity from its highly competitive applicant pool. This growth in enrollment capacity will not only increase graduates but is also a recruitment opportunity for hospitals and clinics as they provide an excellent clinical experience at their facility.

“The nursing shortage is a complex situation; however, essential to solving this problem in Mississippi is graduating more nurses and ensuring that those nurses choose to remain and practice in Mississippi,” said Dr. Beth Tinnon, Associate Professor and Director of USM’s School of Professional Nursing Practice. “We believe embedded faculty can be a part of the solution. Students are more likely to choose employment in a facility where they had a positive experience during their clinical rotation. Embedded faculty help to ensure a positive experience as they themselves are facility employees and can share and demonstrate the positive attributes of the facility. The Embedded Clinical Faculty model will help the School of Professional Nursing Practice to ensure lower numbers in the classroom and clinical setting, which positively impacts student success and, in turn, increases the number of graduating student nurses. We are excited to be working with our clinical partners in seeking a solution to the critical need for more nurses in our community.” 

In 2021, the CNHP graduated 185 students from the pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. The CNHP plans to expand the Embedded Clinical Faculty model with other clinical partners across South Mississippi, including in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast, and has already received financial commitments from individuals in Mississippi and across the nation to move the program forward. More information on USM’s School of Professional Nursing Practice can be found at