Partnerships can close the nursing shortage gap

In the fields of health and human services, there is no more critical workforce issue than the serious shortage of nurses, a shortage that will worsen as the baby boom generation ages and retires.

In recent years, the University of New Hampshire Nursing Department, in collaboration with educational and health-care organizations throughout the state, has taken several steps to increase the number of nurses being educated in New Hampshire.

We have increased enrollment in our four-year undergraduate nursing program from 64 students per year to 80 students per year.

To produce more nurses in fewer than the four years it takes to complete a traditional undergraduate program, we’ve established an innovative program for students who already have an undergraduate degree. In January 2004, we admitted 21 students, who will complete all basic nursing courses and be eligible to sit for their licensing examination as early as December 2004, and will continue in the program, graduating in two and a half years with a masters degree. In January 2005, we will admit a second cohort of up to 24 students.

We have also admitted more graduate students. According to a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, having master’s-prepared nurses at patients’ bedsides leads to better patient outcomes and more cost-effective care. In addition, nurses with master’s degrees are qualified to teach in associate degree programs, including those in New Hampshire’s community and technical colleges. This is critical because we not only have a shortage of practicing nurses in New Hampshire, we have an even greater shortage of nurse educators.

Several students in this program have received $5,000 scholarships from the Foundation for Healthy Communities in Concord in exchange for a commitment to teach nursing in New Hampshire’s associate degree programs after graduation.

We continue to work closely with New Hampshire’s community and technical colleges to make it easier for nurses with associate degrees to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UNH. These efforts build on long-standing collaborations with UNH Manchester, the College for Lifelong Learning and hospitals throughout the state that have provided flexible and accessible programs for students wishing to continue their nursing education beyond a two-year degree.

We have made all these changes without adding any new permanent faculty, or without any additional state revenues. All new and expanded programs are fully supported by tuition paid by enrolled students, and by grants to these students from the Foundation for Healthy Communities.

Despite our efforts in the past two years, the demand for all of our programs exceeds our current resources. We are eager to collaborate with all public and private groups committed to securing the resources needed to make even more progress towards resolving New Hampshire’s nursing shortage, particularly the shortage of nurse educators.

The Nursing Bridge program proposed by the state is a program that would provide intensive training in teaching methods to allow nurses with master’s degrees to teach in associate degree programs, and our original commitment to the state remains. The Nursing Bridge program, along with all else we’re doing, can reduce the shortage of nurses in New Hampshire. If we can work together to do this, we will improve the health of all New Hampshire citizens.

James McCarthy is dean of the School of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire.

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