If she could have any number of nurses walk into the door, eager for a job, what would that number be? "Sixty-five," says Marcia Wolf, nurse recruiter for Princeton Healthcare Systems, "no, 100."

There is a nursing shortage of long standing across the country, and it is even more acute in the Princeton area than it is in most other places. "We live in an area with lots of competition," says Wolf. Not only do other hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care agencies compete for the same pool of employees, but, "we have a lot of nurses go into clinical trials, go to Bristol-Myers, Covance, and the other pharmaceuticals," she adds.

A weapon in Princeton Healthcare Systems’ recruitment arsenal is a once-a-year refresher course for R.N.s who have not worked in a hospital setting for a number of years, maybe even for two decades. This year the course starts on Friday, September 19. Interviews were supposed to be complete by Monday, August 29, but Wolf is still seeing applicants. She emphasizes, however, that Princeton has advertised widely for the program, which has 10 slots. There were seven left as of August 24, but she offers no guarantees of admission to this session.

What she is seeking, really, is employees, not casual students. A condition of enrollment in the course is an agreement to work for the hospital. Students are paid at the hourly rate their years of experience indicate right from the start. "If you have 10 years experience, even if you’ve been out for five years, you’re paid at the rate for a nurse with 10 years experience," says Wolf. Nurses in the program typically make between $25 and $32 an hour.

Wolf points out that Rutgers offers nurse refresher programs, but charges between $1,000 and $2,000 for classroom instruction, and offers no employment guarantees. Of course Rutgers’ graduates would be free to explore any job options.

In the Princeton program students spend five days in the classroom, learning with the help of a "simulated" human being, who, says Wolf, is equipped to make all of the standard body sounds. They then have a five-day hospital orientation, which is followed by four to twelve weeks on a floor, probably on a general surgery floor. Following that break-in period the nurses move on to the specialty of their choice in most cases. Some specialties, including the operating room, emergency room, and maternity floor, require more training.

The biggest challenge newcomers face, says Wolf, is mastering computers. "We don’t use pencils and papers," she says. "There is a laptop in every patient room. There is a computer every 20 feet on every patient floor."

The program draws returning RNs from a number of fields. "We have two flight attendants," says Wolf, a Rider graduate, both undergraduate and graduate, who has been in with Princeton Healthcare for six months. "We have a Merrill Lynch vice president. She always wanted to be a nurse, but people told her ‘go make money.’" When the pursuit of big bucks proved as unfulfilling as she guessed it might be, the finance v.p. returned to nursing.

Most of the nursing candidates Wolf sees are women. When men do seek careers in nursing, she sees them gravitating to specialties that require little interaction. "In the OR patients are unconscious," she says of one popular choice for male nurses. "In the ER they come and go quickly, or come in DOA."

Wolf is not a nurse herself, but rather is a long-time human resources professional who has worked at Comcast and at Capital Health System. She recently tried a career switch of her own, spending one year teaching business and career exploration at Lawrence High School. She was laid off from the teaching job, but was ready to move on. She had taken a pay cut to accept it, and decided that while it is important to seek fulfilling work, it is also important to have a life – and the money to fuel it.

Nurses don’t have to choose between the two, she says, pointing out that a newly minted nurse can easily make between $60,000 and $70,000 a year. In addition, nurses can change their hours as their lifestyles change, opting, for example, to work at night when their children are in school. Wolf would like to see more nurses make that choice, in fact, as she finds it extremely difficult to find enough nurses who want to work the night shift.

No matter what the hours, she points out that nurses can move among specialties, and can change their work environment at will, choosing an extended care facility, or a school, or even traveling around the country, easily finding work along the way.

She urges anyone with an R.N., no matter how long ago it was earned, to look into returning to nursing. She invites nurses to check out the hospital’s website, at www.princetonhcs.org. for current openings. Anyone who would like to see if there is still space in the September refresher course, can call 609-497-4164.

Corporate Angels

Lawrenceville Main Street will hold its ninth annual Main Street Scramble on Friday, September 16, at the Lawrenceville School Golf Course. The event will be held rain or shine, but probably not during a hurricane. The hurricane date is Friday, September 23. Scramble Chair Steve Hendershott announced that registration for the event will start at 11 a.m. with play to begin at noon. An awards ceremony and picnic will be held immediately after the golf scramble.

Educational Testing Service is event sponsor for this year’s Scramble. Other key sponsors for this year’s event include Electronics Payment Network, V.J. Scozzari and Sons, and Stark & Stark.

The Scramble has just a few spaces open for golfers. Names for the waiting list will be taken in the order they are received. The entry fee is $100 per golfer and includes greens fees, electric carts, tee prizes, box lunch and a picnic supper. A portion of the entry fee is a tax-deductible contribution to Lawrenceville Main Street. Non-golfers are welcome to join in on the community picnic that will follow the tournament; the fee is $15.

Call 609-219-9300 for more information or visit www.LawrencevilleMainStreet.com for downloadable registration forms.

Grant Deadlines

Nonprofit organizations have until Friday, September 16, to apply for Greater Mercer Grants from the Princeton Area Community Foundation. Qualifying programs will address the needs of low-income individuals and families, support community organizing in low-income neighborhoods, and address concerns and opportunities within and across municipalities with the greatest impact within Mercer County.

Another grant program is for programs that will serve girls and the women who raise them. The deadline is Friday, September 30, for proposals for the Fund for Women and Girls. It looks for programs with "proven competence in working with girls to build character and self-esteem, hone special talents, train for leadership, respect their bodies, stay in school, and be proud of who they are and what they can do."

The Fund for Women and Girls aims to foster philanthropy by and for women and girls, and nearly 200 area women have made gifts totaling nearly $170,000 in memory of a relative or friend. Bristol-Myers Squibb contributed $100,000.

For guidelines see www.pacf.org or call 609-219-1800.

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