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Boosting Enrollment a Major Concern Meeting the Numbers Challenge

Another promising alternative to private or state funds has been coming from local hospitals. Last year, the Veteran's Administration initiated a program to provide opportunities for highly accomplished students with at least a 3.5 GPA to apply their learning to real-life situations before entering practice. Under the terms of the Veteran's Administration Learning Opportunities in Residence (VALOR) program, nine BSN seniors received full tuition support and a stipend towards additional expenses in exchange for their agreement to work in a Veteran's Administration hospital for two years after graduation. According to Frankie Manning, nursing executive for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Seattle Division of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, the VALOR program provides opportunities for students to enhance their learning around evidence-based practice while also supporting recruitment and retention efforts in Veteran's Administration hospitals. Manning, who also volunteers her time as a member of two SON advisory boards, credits VALOR with "raising the bar" for attracting more BSN-trained nurses as well as stimulating the interest of other area hospitals.

Declining figures for applications to baccalaureate nursingTwo of these, the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Hospital, will begin similar funding programs with UW nursing students this July. Under terms negotiated in part by Associate Dean Susan Woods, both the UWMC and Harborview will fund the cost of the two-year BSN degree program for two students. In return, the students will commit to working two years at the hospital for every one year of funding received.

Woods describes this as a "win-win" situation for hospitals needing more BSN-prepared nurses and for students needing financial assistance. Two-thirds of all BSN graduates go into hospital nursing as their first job.

New accelerated program under study

Getting more students through the system more quickly is another possible avenue to increasing the numbers of nurses. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, the average age of the RN population in March of 2000 was 45.2 years. This contrasts sharply with figures from 1980, when 52.9 percent of all RNs were estimated to be under the age of 40.

Because approximately one-third of all BSN students hold prior degrees, many of them in professional fields such as engineering or law, the School is considering an accelerated one-year generic degree. In this program, students who hold prior undergraduate degrees in non-nursing areas will be able to take all required coursework for the BSN degree in an accelerated one-year program. Following graduation and R.N. licensing, students will be encouraged to immediately enter master's level programs. This plan takes a proactive role in addressing declines in applicants to master's programs in nursing over the past two years by recruiting applicants from the present pool of students.

A BSN to Ph.D. option also is in place. Although most doctoral students have a master's degree in nursing, students holding baccalaureate degrees in nursing or other subjects from any recognized college or university also may apply. Applicants are judged on a wide range of qualifications, including what they can bring to the program and how well their interests match those of the faculty. The doctoral program prepares research scholars for careers in academia or health leadership. Along with the master's program, it is designed to increase the numbers of highly trained nurses and to get more nurses into the workforce at a younger age. According to the AACN, one of the most critical problems facing nursing today is the aging of nursing faculty. In 1996, the average age of new doctoral recipients was 45 years.

New programs address shortage areas

In addition to increasing the numbers of applicants to programs and the pool of financial support for those who apply, the School is also developing new programs to address major shortage areas in nursing. The Master of Nursing (MN) program has been increased to include 20 different specialties over the past two years. UW Tacoma also offers a master's degree in nursing and UW Bothell will be offering one soon.

Recognizing that many other fields of health care are also experiencing serious shortages, the School of Nursing has also been meeting with other professional schools within the University to design new degrees that will address common shortages. For example, because of severe shortages in population-based care both regionally and nationally, the School is now offering a concurrent graduate degree in nursing and public health (MN/MPH). A shortage of health care professionals trained for leadership roles has led to the creation of a concurrent degree in nursing and health sciences administration (MN/HAS).

In addition to the Masters of Nursing specialties, the School continues to offer an MS (Master of Science) degree, emphasizing nursing research.

Future Needs Also Being Assessed

Preparing graduating nurses for the increasing complexities of the workplace is another major concern of the School. Reports show that there is a general need statewide for nurses with adequate computer proficiencies to manage information. In order to meet this challenge, Dr. Ruth Craven, associate dean for educational outreach and community relations, has applied for additional funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to incorporate informatics into each BSN course. This is the second HRSA training grant applied for by the School to meet the increased cost of nursing education in the face of budgetary shortfalls.