This month marks two years since the first serious illnesses and deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 occurred. Two years ago our nation began experiencing the upheaval that accompanied attempts to mitigate the impact of the virus. Little did we know the toll the pandemic would take on the lives of relatives, neighbors, friends and countless others we did not know. And while we are not out of the woods yet, we are seeing signs that offer hope.
While we owe thanks to many for their service these past two years, our healthcare workers deserve special recognition for their sacrifice for others. There are countless stories of workers pulling double duty shifts in overcrowded facilities with the added threat of becoming infected. They continued to not only live up to, but exceed, the expectations in their chosen fields.
The pandemic also highlighted the need for more healthcare workers generally, particularly nurses. While medical publications noted the shortage of nurses prior to 2020, the pandemic served to underscore this critical need. The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences indicates the nursing shortage is expected to continue through 2030. With shortages existing and demand on the rise, educational institutions are being called on to meet the demand.
According to Chmura Economics, healthcare jobs comprise approximately 9% of Northern Virginia’s workforce. The region is projected to add an average of 1,500 new healthcare jobs every year for the next 10 years, while 1,000 openings for nurses will need to be filled annually due to career changes and retirements. The median wage for healthcare workers in the area is $73,000, with nurses averaging an even higher $84,000 annually.
We are fortunate to have a multitude of healthcare programs to address this need. Northern Virginia Community College’s Medical Education Campus in Springfield, Virginia, is one such institution. Founded in 2003, MEC was the first specialized community college campus in the Commonwealth designed to meet the needs of college students interested in healthcare professions.
Currently, MEC offers 12 healthcare-related programs and features state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, dental clinics and a clinical practice site for nursing and health sciences students. The program supports approximately 3,500 students a year.
The Virginia General Assembly showed its support for and confidence in NOVA by approving capital funding to expand and enlarge MEC to admit more students.
“It is critical that the MEC remains at the forefront in meeting the demands of the healthcare workforce in the region. Our students are well-trained [in] utilizing state-of-the-art technology, and well-prepared to enter the workforce and provide impactful contributions to the community,” Dr. Shelly Powers, provost at MEC, said.
Being the leading provider of nurse training programs in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Community College System, of which Northern Virginia Community College is a part, is committed to increasing programs designed to meet the needs of today and the future. While this will require additional investments in faculty, equipment and infrastructure, the benefit of such investments is obvious. Northern Virginia Community College is proud to stand with other members of the VCCS and Virginia’s four-year institutions to provide quality programs that allow graduates to move directly into healthcare jobs.
The writer is the former principal of T.C. Williams High School, now called Alexandria City High School, from 1984 to 2006. He currently serves as Alexandria’s representative to the Northern Virginia Community College Board.