YSU Nursing Students Seek Opportunities at Job Fair

YOUNGSTOWN – Riley Lash, a senior nursing student at Youngstown State University, spent the pandemic working long nights for Windsor House and caring for dementia patients.

Through her own experiences and those of her mother, who is also a nurse, Lash knows well the rigors of the career and the struggle nurses have faced in the past few years, difficulties that have led to burnout and shortages.

“Through working at Windsor House, a lot of nurses helped me develop a lot of self-care skills for dealing with that in the future,” Lash said. “I hope that nothing like that ever happens again. … It’s been crazy. … We’re all short-staffed.”

Lash will graduate from YSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and was one of the 100 nursing students transitioning into the workforce who attended the nursing job fair in the Kilcawley Center on Monday.

She has already accepted a position at Akron Children’s Hospital in the NICU after falling in love with working with pediatric patients during her clinical training there. Students in YSU’s BSN program are required to spend hours working in local facilities, mostly hospitals. Some will stay where they have done those clinicals, but others are looking for something else.

“I think this is helping us to see what hospitals hire into specialty areas, what hospitals have residency programs, what hospitals are going to support us the most as new grads,” Lash said of the event. “I think a lot of us here are looking at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio Wexner – a lot of us are looking at Mercy Health close to home, Akron Children’s – they all have great residency programs for their new grads, and they know what they are doing when it comes to the undergrads.”

Cara Monroe, another senior in the program, has not yet made her decision and said she was urged by former graduates to wait until she graduated to do so.

“Right now I’m just keeping my options open because I love everything that I do in nursing,” Monroe said. “I love helping people. But I’m hoping to find that [place], and [I’m] just pursuing the great benefits that every place has.”

She liked some of the benefits she heard from some of the facilities in attendance. She likes working nights and found that UPMC has a substantial shift differential. They also pay for an extra day when you choose to work the entire weekend.

Monroe is currently a student nurse extern with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Warren and said she would recommend that position to other students in her program because it gave her the opportunity to float around and experience things in different units.

From left are Heather McCowin, chief nursing officer at Mercy Health St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital; Nathaniel Hunter, a senior in the nursing program at YSU; Stacie Call, a registered nurse and market chief nursing officer at Mercy Health-Greater Pittsburgh Region; and Jillian Stevens, nurse recruiter/talent acquisition at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

Nathaniel Hunter, another student, said he has already accepted a job with Mercy Health of Youngstown, where he has worked for two years while going to school. But he also was enjoying getting to know about other opportunities and benefits of other organizations. Some things important to him include wages, scheduling and, as the son of an autoworker, a nursing union.

With graduation just a few months away, Dr. Nancy Wagner, director of the YSU School of Nursing, said this is a great time for students and both local and regional organizations to meet and begin talking about benefits, hours and working conditions.

“This is the perfect time for us to bring in our clinical partners and other vendors for them to speak with our students about employment,” Wagner said.

“Everybody’s trying to fill a nursing workforce,” Wagner said. “There’s a shortage, and we’re trying to help our community create a qualified workforce.”

Wagner believes 60 to 70% of their students stay in the Valley. Even those who leave may return, and all of the YSU BSN students are employed within six months of graduation if they choose to be.

This year’s event was held in an even larger room than last year’s because of the number of vendors interested in coming.

Laura Calcagni is the assistant professor who teaches the nursing transition course for the seniors attending the event. She helps them with their interview skills and to learn about what opportunities there are once they leave the university.

“This gives [the students] an opportunity to talk to so many health care facilities from our area and to find out just what is out there to offer beyond just an hourly rate – benefits and flexibility and staffing ratios,” Calcagni said. “So it’s a really great opportunity for them, and it’s a great opportunity for our health care providers, as well, to get to connect with our graduating students.”

During her class, she also takes the time to speak with students about the profession and how different it is than when she entered it herself more than 20 years ago. She knows nurses are struggling with burnout and the concerns in their lives, even before there was a pandemic, and more nurses left the profession. She works with students on self-care, resilience and coping mechanisms.

“Nursing is such a rewarding profession, and everyone, if you ask any nursing student, they want to help people,” Calcagni said. “So we try to remind them that we have to keep that at the forefront of our sight – that our goal here is to help people, and there are going to be days that are challenges. There are going to be days that are harder than others, and we go back with a fresh attitude each day and do our best to help everyone.”

The organizations attending the event were Mercy Health, Windsor House, Cleveland Clinic, Steward, Select Medical, MetroHealth, Patriot Homecare, Inspira Health Group, UPMC, Surgical Hospital at Southwoods, Salem Regional Medical Center, Akron Children’s Hospital, University Hospitals, Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, Heritage Manor and Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Students brought lists of questions and talked to the various vendors, who provided them with some of the reasons their organization needs them and what benefits they provide.

Akron Children’s Hospital is opening an expanded emergency department at the Boardman campus in April and will need even more nurses than usual.

Ann Marie Ondo, talent selection specialist with Akron Children’s Hospital, said, “We’re very lucky the Mahoning Valley has this program, because they really prepare the students for work.”

“We’re very lucky the Mahoning Valley has this program, because they really prepare the students for work,” Ann Marie Ondo, talent selection specialist with Akron Children’s Hospital said. “We’ve had a nice flow of applicants.”

From the local children’s hospital, the students could later transition to Akron or one of the many satellite offices where families seek care in their own neighborhoods.

“We’re looking for that nurse who has that passion for kids but is very collaborative, teamwork, positive,” Ondo said. “You see a lot, so you have to keep that positive. We’re looking for someone to be that advocate too.”

John Masternick, owner of Windsor House, was there himself to help recruit. He said the staffing crisis has led to rising wages as organizations compete.

“We have about 80 openings for nurses throughout our organization, and we would like to fill them as quickly as possible,” Masternick said. “That number has come down. The trend is for people coming back to the workforce. We recently gave a substantial wage increase for nurses, nurse aides and the rest of our staff in an effort to attract people we need for our population.”

He said the students stopping by his table are well-informed, and credited Wagner and Calcagni with training them well, including helping them to ask good questions.

“YSU has virtually doubled their nursing program in the last few years,” Masternick said, noting the university is very beneficial to the Mahoning Valley and to organizations like his trying to navigate the nursing crisis. “It’s been a godsend to us. We’re very grateful.”

Deanna Paxton, chief nursing officer with the Cleveland Clinic Rehab Hospital, Edwin Shaw, said the facility was one of the first in the area to begin rehabilitating COVID patients during the pandemic. Later, some of its caregivers started contracting COVID, and many older nurses chose to get out of the profession.

Paxton was at the event hoping to find some great young nurses who want to partner with therapists to get those needing acute rehabilitation back to their homes one day.

Additionally, she was enjoying networking with the students coming by the table to learn more about the facility, which is located in Fairlawn, about an hour away from Youngstown.

“I think this is amazing,” Paxton said. “It is a really great way for these students to network and to meet people from hospitals and start their careers. That really energizes me. I love the profession of nursing. I wouldn’t do anything different. So I’m really excited to be able to talk to the students who are coming through and offer them support or advice or whatever they might be looking for to help them begin their careers. This is really exciting.”

Pictured at top: Riley Lash, a senior in the nursing program at YSU, and John Masternick, owner of Windsor House.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.