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Culver signs nursing bill at UI


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Gov. Chet Culver says newly signed legislation will recruit new nurses to the workforce, helping to fill a shortage the state has dealt with for years.

The governor signed the bill into law on the University of Iowa campus Wednesday, calling it an integral piece of Iowa’s commitment to improving access to health care.

“This will just make us even more competitive so we can provide top-notch professional health care and services across the state,” he said.

The new law, while not providing funds for nurse recruitment and retention, establishes the Iowa Needs Nurses Now Initiative, which will track the industry’s workforce data and disperse private, federal, or future state-allocated dollars into programs that provide incentives for nurses to work in Iowa.

Officials said the initiative will give the state better access to federal and private funds as well as encourage future legislative sessions to pump money into nurse recruiting and retention programs.

UI College of Nursing faculty members said they hope some of the funds channeled through the new initiative will be specifically aimed at programs to attract educators to Iowa’s nursing programs.

Indeed, the law Culver signed Wednesday will also channel student-aid dollars to scholarships and incentive programs for nurses pursuing advanced degrees. This adds to President Obama’s recently signed health-reform law that includes a stipulation that would expand loan-forgiveness programs for nurses who choose to pursue teaching.

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“When you need a nurse at your bedside or a nurse at your school or wherever — nurses are all over — there’s not going to be anyone to educate those nurses,” said UI Assistant Dean Pat Clinton, who heads the nursing master’s program.

She explained why: Master’s and doctoral degrees — requisites for most teaching positions — are expensive to pursue. She said many nurses get their bachelor’s degrees and enter the workforce.

Other nurses who get advanced degrees likely enter private practice — generally more lucrative than teaching, said Brenda Hoskins, a UI clinical assistant professor of nursing.

As a result, Iowa has a shortage in the number of those with enough education to teach nurses.

“Many times, nurses are out supporting their families with their careers, and they can’t put that on hold to go to graduate school,” Hoskins said.

Qualified applicants are turned away from the UI’s undergraduate nursing program because the college doesn’t have enough faculty to handle the demand, Clinton said.

The trend resounds nationally.

Across the United States, 54,000 qualified applicants were denied admission to nursing programs in 2009, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports.

Iowa policymakers have long wrestled with the statewide nursing shortage. A 2001 report from the Iowa Legislature found the average age of the state’s practicing nurses is growing quickly and predicted the state will see a diminishing nursing workforce as nurses reach retirement.

While the number of registered nurses in the state has grown steadily since 2004 (hitting more than 40,000 in 2009), the number of licensed practicing nurses — a position which requires less education and is found more often in nursing homes and rural areas than in hospitals — has been stagnant for more than 20 years, hovering between 10,000 and 12,000 statewide, according to a report from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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