Aid For Future Nursing Instructors

October 6, 2006
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LANSING — A proposal expected to head to the governor's office after the election may help solve the shortage of nurses by providing more instructors.

The measure would award $250,000 in scholarships specifically for graduate students who plan to teach nursing.

The money would be divided among schools across the state and distributed by colleges or universities with nursing programs. The state already awards $5 million a year in nursing scholarships.

Since 2000, the need for nurses has shifted from the initial shortage of students to a deficit in instructors, said Carol Feuss, labor communications specialist for the Michigan Nurses Association.

"People started sounding the alarm because the population in general is getting older, and in general you require more health care," Feuss said. "Also, registered nurses who are in health care are going to retire when there is the greatest need."

The need for nurses has been recognized, and now nursing programs across the state have more applicants than they can accept, she said.

Sen. Michael Switalski, D-Roseville, primary sponsor of the bill, said he became aware of the shift and began working with area schools and hospitals.

"There isn't enough room for people to get in, and yet there's a need for nurses and people who need jobs," Switalski said.

He met with school and hospital administrators several times over a six-month period, and they determined an underlying reason for the shortage of nurses is the need for instructors, he said.

The legislation has passed the House and Senate and will be sent to the governor after a final senate review following the Nov. 7 election.

Michigan programs turned away 3,500 to 5,000 nursing applicants last year alone, said Jeanette Klemczak, Michigan's chief nurse executive at the Department of Community Health.

"The easy answer is to train more nurses and open more seats in the nursing schools," Klemczak said. "The problem is we can't do that. First, we need more faculty."

The good news, she said, was that the state has been working to meet these shortages, both long and short term.

In 2005, Gov. Jennifer Granholm committed $20 million in initiatives to help solve the problems, asking hospitals, nursing schools and health coalitions to come up with solutions and offering them funding.

One short-term solution was a yearlong accelerated nursing program for students who already have a bachelor's degree, Klemczak said.

The first accelerated program at Michigan State University School of Nursing graduated 44 registered nurses in 12 months, she said, adding that the program is too demanding for students to work while attending, so scholarships are necessary.

Hospital staff nurses also have the option to reduce their hours by one-half and use that time to teach. They go through a short training period and are then put into the classroom, she said.

According to the state's health code, the ratio of faculty to students must be 1-to-10 in most lab classes, making sure students have hands-on experience and are learning properly, Klemczak said.

OaklandUniversity has a hard time finding faculty, not only for its undergraduate program but for masters and doctoral classes, as well, said Amy Johnson, marketing media coordinator for the Oakland University School of Nursing.

"It's difficult because when you are a nurse and you get a job in administration, you can make really good money," Johnson said. "And if you opt to be a faculty member, the university can't pay what the hospitals pay. That's the problem we face."

The university's graduate program has grown 24 percent in the last five years, she said, and it has the capacity for more growth. Scholarships are often the only way nurses can pursue graduate and doctoral degrees because it's so expensive, said Johnson.

"There really has to be an incentive to want to become faculty," she said.

Klemczak said the lack of instructors is being addressed.

"The answer is to start working on it now and don't wait. The bill is a piece of the puzzle, and it sends me the message that a lot of people are interested in this issue, especially the Legislature."

There are more than a dozen graduate nursing programs in the state. They include SaginawValleyState, GrandValleyState, Northern Michigan, Madonna, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan universities.     

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