A Pennsylvania nonprofit addresses nursing shortages through accessibility, community

Issues and Impact | Blog | 3 mins.
Written By: Kelsey Thompson | Posted On: 05/03/2023

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hamot (UPMC Hamot), a 480-bed hospital in Erie, Pa., is one of the fastest-growing hospitals in the state and serves some of the poorest and least healthy zip codes. Facing a national nursing shortage in the wake of COVID-19, they needed a fresh strategy to create a pipeline of well-trained, highly qualified nurses.

In recent years, nurses have been retiring or leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced. The trend shows no signs of slowing down. According to the 2023 State of Nursing report, 79 percent of nurses said their units are inadequately staffed and nearly 5 million additional nurses are expected to retire by 2030.  

UPMC Hamot and the Hamot Health Foundation—a nonprofit organization that fundraises for and supports the hospital—partnered on a creative solution to not only solve their nursing shortage but also provide career pathways to community members hungry for opportunities.

In 2021, they created the Jameson School of Nursing at UPMC Hamot. 

With a $12 million renovation, they transformed a 107-year-old building that previously served as an elementary school into a state-of-the-art hub for healthcare access and job training. The project breathed new life into Erie’s lower east side—a neighborhood battling decades of disinvestment.  

The Jameson School of Nursing at UPMC Hamot, and the students it teaches, are unique by design. The 16-month registered nurse (RN) diploma program is shorter and more intensive than most nursing programs, offering 900 hours of bedside clinical experience and year-round classes. The shorter duration makes it easier for career changers, parents and caregivers to complete the program because there is less time they must balance education, career and family responsibilities. 

To minimize the number of students who drop out for preventable reasons, the nursing faculty, Hamot Health Foundation and UPMC Hamot provide wraparound support, from scholarships and tuition reimbursement to mentoring. The program recruits heavily from the local community, meeting community members where they are to offer an opportunity to upskill and enter an upwardly mobile career.  

“As a single mother of four, it was hard to coordinate everyday life. Hamot Health Foundation was able to help with scholarships and financial backing,” said Terinique Keys, a graduate of the program. “And the students and staff, we were really like a family; we all worked together toward a common goal.”

In December 2022, 48 students in the inaugural class graduated. Graduates ranged in age from 19 to 56 years old and 35 percent identified as a person of color. In comparison, 19 percent of existing registered nurses are minorities. The program’s retention scores and licensure pass rates exceeded national averages.

The students, now registered nurses, have an estimated starting salary of $30 per hour, or about $60,000 per year. They have near-guaranteed job placement—80 percent of graduates were hired at UPMC Hamot. For many graduates, this salary will double their previous earnings. Growing demand for the program makes it clear that it’s meeting community needs. The second cohort contains 80 students, while the incoming third cohort has 120 enrollees and a waiting list. 

“We want them to graduate with little to no debt. We want them to thrive at the bedside, and in their lives,” said Charles “Boo” Hagerty, president of the Hamot Health Foundation. “We didn’t just invest in the school, we invested in these incredible students who will be amazing nurses.”


Learn more about the UPMC Jameson School of Nursing at UPMC Hamot and how you can support it by visiting the Hamot Health Foundation website.