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Montana and our region are facing an alarming shortage of physicians, nurses, counselors, therapists, and other medical professionals. Plus, our population is aging; our state now has the fifth oldest population in the nation and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry is estimating close to 23% of our current workforce will retire within the next 10 years. These retirements will impact all sectors of the state, with healthcare being at the forefront – more people will need care, and there will be fewer professionals to deliver it. Rich Rasmussen, president of the Montana Hospital Association, shared his thoughts recently, saying, “Hospitals across our state have identified workforce as the number one issue impacting their service delivery.”

The projected demand for advanced health professionals (requiring four-year and graduate degrees) in Montana and across the Pacific Northwest through 2026 are staggering. We will need to fill over 1,100 openings in Montana and over 14,000 openings across the Pacific Northwest for advanced healthcare jobs.

Carroll College health sciences focus

Over the past 15 years, Carroll College has employed our liberal arts foundation and strong science core as base to focus a great deal of effort on expanding our health sciences education. We are proud of the fact that we have experienced 250% growth in enrollment in these programs, which include pre-professional health tracks such as medicine, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, advanced nursing practice, and physician assistant.

Carroll’s pre-med program has a long-standing 85% acceptance rate into medical school, while the national average is only 41%. In just the past four years, 71 Carroll students have entered medical school. Historically, 51% of Carroll pre-med students enrolled in the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, more than double the rate of other applicants in our region.

Carroll’s nursing program is celebrating its 73rd year of existence. We have conferred 390 Bachelor of Science in nursing degrees over the last 10 years. The class of 2018 had a 100% pass rate on their licensure exams (NCLEX–RN), with 100% job placement for those seeking employment.

Carroll College launches Health Sciences 2025 Initiative

Carroll College is launching its “Health Sciences 2025 Initiative,” which will bring our 70-plus years of experience in nursing and healthcare programs to a new level. Over the past six months, we have received a commitment of over $2 million to create a state-of-the art nursing simulation lab, expand our nursing program, and develop our first two healthcare related graduate programs in both nursing (Nurse Practitioner) and licensed clinical counseling (Master of Science in Social Work – LCSW).

Over the past several months, I have been traveling the state to meet with hospital CEOs to discuss their workforce needs and share Carroll’s goal of being the leader in healthcare education in Montana over the next decade. Carroll brings tremendous value to Montana in a period of workforce scarcity by being a net importer of talent. Even though 60% of our students come from out-of-state, 71% of our graduates work in Montana five years following their graduation. This makes Carroll a significant importer of talent into Montana. Carroll is also proud that 51% of our pre-med graduates have returned to work in Montana as family practitioners, pediatricians, internists, podiatrists, OB/GYNs, and other medical specialties. Our nursing program boasts over 500 licensed registered nurses practicing in Montana this year.

Working together to address Montana’s healthcare workforce shortage

Carroll is partnering with several hospitals and healthcare organizations to help address our state’s healthcare workforce shortages. Our expanded nursing program will include an Accelerated Nursing Option, which will let students who already have a bachelor’s degree in other fields become nurses within 15 months (summer to summer). We will deliver graduate-level coursework using traditional classroom and hybrid/online learning opportunities that allow place bound students to complete their programs working in partnership with local healthcare facilities and the college. We will hire directors for our new Social Work and Nurse Practitioner programs this summer, and construction on our new nursing simulation lab is already underway. We are also working to leverage our strong pre-med and biological sciences programs to develop a masters in genetic counseling program.

Working together, we can help alleviate a growing workforce crisis in Montana’s largest economic sector: healthcare. To learn more or if you have interest in becoming involved with this exciting new initiative, do not hesitate to reach out to me at president@carroll.edu.

John E. Cech, Ph.D. is the President of Carroll College.

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