A Montana university system official recently highlighted efforts to provide more healthcare workers as the need for help in those professions increases.
Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner for academic, research and student affairs, told members of Hometown Helena, a local group of Queen City residents, businesspeople and civic leaders, that his agency continues to work through “a difficult puzzle of health workforce education.”
This includes developing new forms of collaboration and joining other institutions to produce nurses credentialed in other parts of the state among 16 campuses. The University System of Montana oversees public colleges and universities in the state.
“Health care is rapidly becoming the largest field of study and workforce development effort,” he said last week, adding that 500 nurses graduate each year in the Montana university system.
Tessman said 80% of those nurses were still practicing in Montana a year after graduation.
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“We really like to emphasize the connection between local education and local work, which is what we do,” he said.
Tessman said there are well over 1,000 Montana graduates each year in broader health fields.
“It couldn’t be more needed right now,” he said, adding that many experienced medical professionals are retiring.
He said some were retiring early and leaving the workforce due to stress. He noted that while the salary structure by Montana standards is reasonable, it is often seen as unsatisfactory in dealing with the stress and skills needed at the job level.
Tessman said there is a decline in the existing labor supply and there is more demand not only for nurses, but also for allied health professions, such as mental health.
“It’s a top priority for the Montana university system,” he said.
He said there were two new medical schools coming to Montana. Touro in Great Falls plans to graduate 125 osteopathic physicians per year. The other is Rocky Vista University in Billings, which plans to have 100 graduates per year.
He said it was good news for both cities in terms of economic impact. But he said there are concerns about Montana’s ability to provide the right kind of clinical and hands-on opportunities for students as they learn. He said the Montana university system is looking to increase local partnerships in behavioral health. It also examines which students from all parts of the state can receive basic instruction and then pursue hands-on learning in their community.
Tessman noted two large financial contributions made in Montana to help nursing programs.
One was a $7 million donation by former Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar and his wife, Sherry, to Montana Tech’s nursing program, and the other was $101 million by Mark and Robyn Jones at Montana State University for building new, larger, state-of-the-art educational facilities on its college of nursing campuses in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula.
Both donations were made in 2021.
Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.