Health-care reform could help nursing crisis

BY JOSEPH BELK | APRIL 06, 2010 7:30 AM

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In their clinical briefing for a nursing class, students diligently jotted down notes for a patient who had undergone a tracheotomy.

In a clinic room down the hall, an advanced “simulation mannequin” waited in a hospital bed. The “electrical guts” inside the figure allow the staff to remotely manipulate the patient’s physiological functions and vitals, University of Iowa Clinical Assistant Professor Connie Trowbridge said.

Though working as a nursing professor is less lucrative than working with living patients at the other side of the hospital, she said, she’s content with her role as a teacher.

“Teaching doesn’t pay nearly as much,” she said. “[But] it’s something I always wanted to do.”

Officials hope a provision in the recently signed health-reform law will encourage practitioners to pursue the additional education necessary to be a professor. The stipulation will expand loan-forgiveness programs for nurses choosing to pursue teaching.

Rita Frantz, the dean of the UI College of Nursing, said the focus on nursing education is promising.

“It certainly is uplifting that the [shortage] of faculty in our nursing education programs is being addressed,” Frantz said. “Clearly, the need for nurses is going to increase as more of the population becomes insured and has access to health care.”

Frantz said she believes many nurses would attend graduate school to become teachers, but they often do not have the resources to pay tuition.

The UI College of Nursing shifted some emphasis on providing nurses more education in 2007. That year, officials cut the college’s undergraduate enrollment in half to accommodate more graduate-level instruction.

Expanding existing loan-forgiveness programs may encourage enrollment in graduate programs, though officials must factor in time for nurses to acquire Ph.D.s.

“It will probably take five or six years before we see an effect from this,” Frantz said.

Trowbridge emphasized the importance of nurses in higher education.

“[The need] is critical right now,” she said.

The lack of teaching staff is problematic for admissions in the UI’s nursing program as well as programs nationwide.

“Qualified students are being turned away because we don’t have the faculty to teach them,” she said. “We haven’t been able to admit [even] half of our qualified-applicant pool in our baccalaureate or our graduate programs.”

According to survey data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, more than 54,000 qualified applicants in the United States were denied enrollment to nursing schools last year.

“And that’s just bachelor [programs],” Frantz said. “And the reason is because of insufficient faculty.”

Nursing students are acutely aware of the shortage.

Thomas Webering, a first-year nursing student, has friends who weren’t accepted into the UI College of Nursing. He said he’s considered becoming an instructor.

“I know there’s a massive shortage,” Webering said. “[But] right now you have to have a master’s to teach, so that’s an extra three years of school.”

He noted field experience is a prerequisite to enrollment in graduate nursing programs.

“Some of our instructors have five to seven years of experience,” he said.

Angela Kueny, a Ph.D. candidate, spent two years in the field before she began her track to the highly sought-after position.

“You don’t do it for the money,” she said. “You just know you want to teach.”

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