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Nursing programs hope to alleviate shortage

Few professions are more respected and admired than nursing. In most settings, they are the wheels that keep the system running. Professionals predict a growing need for nurses at all levels.

In South Mississippi there are nursing programs at three campuses of the University of Southern Mississippi, two campuses of William Carey College and three campuses of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. All are full and have waiting lists.

“Our waiting list is longer than the number of people we accepted and that`s heartbreaking for me,” said Dr. Mary Coyne, coordinator for the University of Southern Mississippi`s Gulf Park School of Nursing in Long Beach.

And that`s in spite of Southern Miss dramatically increasing their enrollment in anticipation of the nursing shortage. In addition to the nursing program at the Gulf Park campus, the university has nursing schools in Meridian and Hattiesburg. Southern Miss offers bachelor`s, master`s and doctoral degrees in nursing and is the largest school of nursing in the state. Currently, there are 432 students in the bachelor`s program, 144 master`s students and 20 doctoral students. Specialties in the graduate program include community health, family and psychiatric nurse practitioners, nurse executive, clinical nurse and adult health.

“We also have a very unique program for BSN students who already have associate`s degrees and are registered nurses,” Coyne said. “Classes meet on Fridays and Saturdays every other weekend, and the students really like it.”

Coyne, who formerly was clinical director for 165 nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals in 28 states, is worried about the shortage of nurses long term. She says the profession has to increase at every level and especially needs more doctoral and master`s prepared nurses to get more registered nurses in the field.

“Public institutions have a responsibility to meet these demands,” she said. “Most people in leadership positions in nursing along the Coast are from the USM program.”

She pointed out that nursing faculty members also are involved in some element of hands-on nursing per the state College Board`s requirements.

“That pushes us to be reality based whether we’re helping with patient care or doing research,” she said. “It`s important to know the bedside part of nursing.”

William Carey College, a private institution with campuses in Hattiesburg and Gulfport, has nursing programs at both locations. The Hattiesburg campus has 150 students in its bachelor`s program. William Carey on the Coast has 162 students in three nursing programs – the generic BSN, an associate to BSN degree and a master`s degree that began last August and will produce 26 graduates in the first class.

The nursing director, Dr. Janet Williams, said, “By the year 2010, we will be more than a half-million nurses short. That`s amazing and it scares us.”

She said William Carey on the Coast started the master`s program because of the critical nursing faculty shortage in the state. She believes this shortage exists partly because nurses can make much more money in the private sector than in teaching.

Williams said the master`s classes meet every other weekend and one night a week, a popular format with working nurses.

“We respond to the needs of the community and are trying to produce some teachers for this area,” she said. “That`s what we’ve got to do to get enough nurses out there.”

She feels the shortage is due to the large number of aging Baby Boomers, more nurses retiring than coming into the profession and the intensity of nursing care in today`s healthcare system.

“The difference in what we can do for heart patients now is phenomenal compared to 20 years ago. We are doing more to intercede and it takes more care,” she said. “People are living longer, and we’re doing more for them.”

Williams affirms that nurses are the frontline and are patients’ advocates. “It`s a team effort but we’re there with patients 24 hours a day,” she said.

She is also seeing more diversity among nursing students with a growing increase of male students. William Carey College draws considerable male students from nearby Keesler Air Force Base.

“We have 35 to 40 males out of 162 students. We might have had two out of 100 students 30 years ago,” she said. “This can do nothing but help as we get more diversity of outlooks. It helps the profession to have balance.”

Williams says space and faculty are the two things holding back the nursing programs. “Need, jobs and students are all there but we can`t admit more students because we do not have enough space and faculty. That`s why the colleges are thrilled with our new master`s program that will produce more teachers.”

Nica Cason is presently department chairperson for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College`s (MGCCC) associate degree in nursing at the Jackson County campus. In August she will assume leadership of MGCCC`s new nursing program on the Perkinston campus. Students for the new classes have been accepted and all locations have waiting lists.

“We are reorganizing,” she said. “Our nursing programs will become one big program but will still have three campuses. The additional location will provide a new avenue for those who live in that part of the district”

Cason said the school is maxed out space-wise with 200 students in the nursing program. No more students will be admitted until the spring of 2006. She says MGCCC hates to turn down students but faces the challenge of having enough qualified faculty.

“There`s a great need for nurses and it will continue,” she said. “The job market is very good with most students having jobs promised when they graduate.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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