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Yuma has grow-your-own strategy to meet nursing demand

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Nursing educators and health care groups in Yuma, a city that doubles its population every winter, said they have to maintain a tight partnership when it comes to meeting the community’s need for nurses.

“Here in Yuma we say that we are surrounded by a sea of sand, ¬†which means everyone needs to rely on each other for everything we need, including nurses,” said Daniel Barajas, Arizona Western College’s dean of career and technical education.

Arizona Western College and Yuma Regional Medical Center meet regularly to discuss nursing education and several years ago modified a five-year enrollment plan to avoid having an excess of graduating nurses, said Sharon Gardner, the medical center’s vice president of human resources.

“The original plan of graduating up to 160 nurses a year was cut back to 80 nurses a year, with 40 graduating in the fall and 40 in the spring,” she said.

The medical center, which hired 31 of the graduates this past year, offers special extended education programs that allow about 20 new registered nurses per year to get experience in labor and delivery, neonatal intensive care nursery and emergency room settings, said Leslie Dalton, the center’s director of clinical education.

Gardner said the medical center isn’t Yuma’s only employer needing nurses, but with its programs for the college’s new registered nurses it can reach out to a lot of the graduates.

“Our theory is if we grow our own, they will stay in the community,” she said.