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Trends indicate field will continue to grow

State's nursing schools struggling with dearth of faculty

Advocates for the nursing profession in Mississippi find themselves a victim of their own success. Last year, Mississippi nursing schools turned away more than 1,600 qualified applicants, because of a shortage of nursing school faculty.

“We’ve done such a good job recruiting nursing students and creating awareness of the jobs out there that now we’re in this situation,” said Betty Dickson, head of the Mississippi Nursing Association.

The interest in nursing programs is welcome, said Dr. Kaye Bender, dean of the school of nursing at University Medical Center (UMC).

Bender said that almost a third of the nursing students in UMC`s current junior BSN class already have one college degree and came to nursing school to facilitate a career change.

“There`s been a resurgence in nursing as a profession,” she said.

But if the teaching faculty continues its current rate of attrition, Dickson believes the ongoing nursing shortage may worsen. The shortage can be attributed to several factors, including the large percentage of the nursing workforce reaching retirement age and the lucrative salaries skilled nurses can command in clinical practice.

And it`s not a phenomenon unique to Mississippi.

Nursing schools across the country are reporting similar issues in nursing education, but Mississippi nursing schools are working to change the trend, through a combination of legislative efforts and innovative partnerships to alleviate the shortage.

The end of the 2004 legislative session marked the death of several bills modeled on the program Mississippi passed to encourage K-12 teachers to relocate to critical-need districts. Senate Bill 2534 and House Bill 1343 sought to provide salary incentives to retain current nursing faculty and relocation incentives to recruit faculty to Mississippi nursing schools, according to Dickson.

Why did the effort fail?

“It has money attached to it, and everything is tight down at the Legislature,” said Dickson. Proposals included giving money to the State Institutions for Higher Learning and the State Board for Community and Junior College to fund faculty raises of $6,000 to $8,000 per year for the next three years, coupled with programs to reimburse nurses who become faculty for relocation expenses up to $1,000 and to provide assistance with home loans for nurse educators.

Mississippi nursing programs currently have 382 full-time and 53 part-time faculty members in 16 programs offering associate degrees and eight nursing schools offering bachelor`s or graduate level degrees, according figures from the deans and directors’ council for Mississippi`s nursing schools.

While only 37 nursing faculty positions remain unfilled, the clock is ticking on how long Mississippi schools of nursing may be able to keep the faculty they currently have. Twelve percent of current nursing faculty are eligible for retirement, and over 31% will be eligible to retire by 2005.

Innovative solutions for the difficulty are already being discussed by the nursing community, including increasing reliance on online teaching for non-traditional master`s-level nursing students, according to Bender.

One program that UMC has implemented this school year is to work out a way for nurses employed with various hospitals in Jackson to become part-time members of the clinical faculty. Bender said the faculty shortage was most acute when nurses prepared to undergo clinical training.

“Current teaching standards require that we have one faculty member per every 10 students during clinical courses,” she said. “You can teach 100 students in a classroom, but when you have to take them into a clinical setting, that makes a difference.”

Currently, nine nurses with master`s degrees are working in this capacity with UMC nursing students. The faculty members discovered that several nurses in the Jackson area were interested in aiding nursing students in their clinical studies, and those faculty members approached UMC to request funding for the program, according to Bender.

Trends indicate that nursing will continue to be a growing field, with the Office of Nursing Workforce estimating that by the end of 2005, Mississippi will need more than 2,000 nurses to fill various positions.

“In order for us to provide enough nurses needed, we have to have enough nursing faculty,” Dickson said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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