GVSU Grants Aid Nursing Industry

August 22, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — A total of $1.2 million in state grants will help Grand Valley State University's Kirkhof College of Nursing place more nurses into the work force sooner.

By funding a program that addresses the shortage of nursing faculty and offers an accelerated nursing program for students who already have bachelor's degrees, the grants will help boost the number of nurses in the work force directly and indirectly.

One of the most dire shortages in the industry is in nursing faculty, said Jeanette Klemczak, the state's chief nurse executive. Faculty members tend to be older than the average age of nurses and may retire sooner.

"If there's not someone there to teach them, it doesn't matter," she said of efforts to overcome the nurse shortage.

The issue is so important, Klemczak said, that nine of the 23 state grants are dedicated to training nursing faculty, including the GVSU grant. The grants are part of the governor's MI Opportunity Partnership program and are made available by the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Fund.

"Nursing is a practice profession," Klemczak said. "Students have to have time with real patients." That time has to be closely supervised by nursing faculty — a ratio of one faculty member to no more than 10 students is required. Because of the faculty shortage, students are spending more time in nursing school waiting to complete the clinical aspect of their education.

"We're faced with long waiting lists at the community colleges and also at the four-year colleges for students to get this experience," she said.

Because the schools are desperate for nursing faculty and the hospitals will reap the benefit of having clinical instructors on hand — and more nurses available sooner — nursing students will do their clinical training at no cost to them.

"The faster we can get (nursing students) through the clinical training, the faster we can get them in the work environment," Klemczak said.

The GVSU program would allow 32 nurses currently practicing in the community to become instructors in the next two years, said Phyllis Gendler, dean and professor at the Kirkhof College of Nursing. The program will train eight nurses per semester in an intensive course.

"We'll try to identify people that have that interest, and then we'll provide that educational training," she said. "They will have to understand our curriculum and what skills the students come with."

Though Gendler said she had hoped to start the program this fall, a delay in funding has pushed the date back until January 2006. The program will be offered during both fall and winter semesters for two years.

The instructor training will not give the nurses a degree, but Gendler said the college is working on a way to determine what credits could be given for the program that would count toward a master's degree.

"It may be that they find that this is something they really love, and they want to go on and get a master's in nursing education," she said.

The state funding will help in the development of the curriculum, Gendler said.

"It gives us the money and the resources to figure out some creative ways of doing this," she said.

The second state grant will help fund an accelerated program meant for those students who have already earned a bachelor's degree.

"They will be able to go out in the work force in a shorter period of time," Gendler said.

While traditional students have four semesters of prerequisites and five semesters of clinical courses, the accelerated students would have only three semesters of intense clinical courses, unless they were missing classes such as anatomy and physiology, which they also would have to take.

"But it wouldn't take them very long," Gendler said. "Even students that don't have the health background would get done in four semesters."

Students will take about 15 credits a semester rather than 10 or 12 and are expected to commit to the three semesters.

"(The program) will help us graduate nurses fast, which is what we need to do," she said.

Gendler said the factors of more extensive health care, an aging population and an aging nursing population all contribute to the nursing shortage.

Though the two programs are separate, Gendler said they will aid one another. The new clinical instructors will free up more experienced faculty members to work on the accelerated program.

The state grants will help with the nursing shortage and also help the area's economy, Gendler said.

"Most of our graduates stay here," she said. "We're not a university that attracts people from across the country that then go back to their home. We're investing in our own community when it comes to improving the economy and getting jobs in this area."

Because the funding is based on two 44-percent match grants, GVSU will contribute about $500,000 for the programs, Gendler said.

"I think the university was very generous with the contribution," she said.

Spectrum Health, which collaborated with GVSU to write the proposals, will benefit from the grants as well.

"I think it's a great opportunity," said Jan Hodges, manager of nursing practice, research and academic relations for Spectrum Health. "We've worked well with GVSU in the past, and this us just another opportunity to work for the good of the community."

Hodges said Spectrum's nurses will have the first opportunity to take advantage of the clinical instructor training.

"I know people are already calling and saying, 'Yes, I want to do this,' " she said. "It's really a great opportunity for them to do that."

Spectrum Health could also benefit from the accelerated program when the students do their clinical work within the system.

"When they do clinicals, that's a great opportunity for recruitment," Hodges said.

Klemczak said the state grants, which total more than $16 million, are an important part of Michigan's health-care strategy.

"They're one critical part of the strategy," she said. "The strategy is very large, because no one piece is going to solve the problem."    

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