April 20, 2023

Registered nurse apprenticeship launches in Wisconsin

Program will be the first in the state and one of only a few in the nation

Madison, Wis. – As part of UW Health’s ongoing commitment to addressing the nursing workforce shortage, the health system has partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Madison College to create one of the nation’s first registered nurse apprenticeships.

The four-year program is designed specifically to support racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse health care personnel to pursue an associate degree in nursing and make them eligible to take the board examination to become registered nurses.
Workforce shortages across the health care industry have reached crisis levels, with high turnover rates for nurses nationwide and limited educational opportunities for those wishing to become nurses, according to Rudy Jackson, chief nurse executive, UW Health.

“We need more nurses – it’s that simple,” he said. “That means we need to create a supportive path for future nurses to join this rewarding profession.”

There could be a deficit of 20,000 nurses in Wisconsin alone by 2040, according to Amy Pechacek, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, which operates registered and youth apprenticeship programs for the state of Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin Apprenticeship continues to lead the nation in its innovation,” she said. “Innovative training programs like apprenticeships are the way we can support a strong workforce in the state of Wisconsin and connect job seekers to stable, sustainable career pathways.”

Apprentices will receive comprehensive education and career pathway support from Madison College, according to Jack E. Daniels, president, Madison College.

The college’s faculty will provide all the classroom instruction, including two years of pre-requisite coursework and two years of core nursing-specific courses in this apprenticeship program, pending approval from the Wisconsin Technical College System board.

“Supporting our industry partners to meet workforce challenges is critical,” Daniels said. “Together, we’re embarking on a program that will ultimately benefit not just the apprentices, but the people in our community and beyond who need compassionate and skilled nurses throughout their lives.”

All tuition, books and supplies, as well as full-time salaries and benefits for the apprentices will be supported by UW Health. The program will also provide holistic academic, diversity, equity and inclusion and community support.

A program that reduces barriers to a career in nursing is directly related to quality patient care, according to Dr. Alan Kaplan, CEO, UW Health.

“The health care workforce shortage is one of the greatest challenges we see to meeting our community’s demand for patient care,” Kaplan said. “By providing the resources many need to become nurses, we are breaking down barriers historically underserved populations face when pursuing careers such as nursing, and ultimately diversifying the nursing workforce which also benefits our patients.”

UW Health will hire two additional nurse educators, who will be mentored by Madison College faculty. The nurse educators will oversee the on-the-job training and clinical competency requirements for the nurse apprentices. Apprentices will work as nursing assistants for the first two years of the program and as student nurses for the last two years.

Upon graduation and success on the board examination, the apprentices will transition into nursing positions at UW Health.

While this program is one of the first of its kind, UW Health has a strong track record with apprenticeships. In 2018, the first medical assistant registered apprenticeship in Wisconsin was established at UW Health. It has so far had 143 graduates, with 89% identifying as Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and 99% passing credentialing exams on their first attempts. In 2019, UW Health also launched a successful nursing assistant apprenticeship. It has supported almost 150 graduates, 93% identifying as Black, Indigenous or people of color, and 89% passing credentialing exams on the first try.

Applications and testing for the first nursing apprenticeship cohort are taking place this spring. The first group will consist of 16 employees already working at UW Health. Future cohorts will include new employees.

This innovative apprenticeship was supported thanks in part to a donation from Epic to Wisconsin Medicine, a philanthropic partnership between the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and UW Health to support the future of health, that was announced in October.

UW Health will provide opportunities to apply for the program directly to employees for the first cohort and create a broader application process for future cohorts.