NJ Training Nurses as Educators of Future Nurses

Beth Fitzgerald | March 27, 2012 | Health Care
State’s Nursing Initiative helps nurses pursue advanced degrees to fill faculty ranks

New Jersey is making strides in meeting the challenges of a looming nursing shortage by providing incentives that are persuading some in the profession to turn to teaching the next generation of nurses.

These nurses are pursuing advanced degrees with the intent to serve as nurse faculty through the New Jersey Nursing Initiative. Launched in 2009 with $30 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a number of nurses have already been hired and others are working on their doctoral degrees.

Their numbers are needed in the classroom, where nursing school faculty will train nurses to replace thousands of nurses expected to retire in coming years. By 2016, the nursing initiative expects to train 61 nurse educators, 40 with master’s degrees and 21 with PhDs. The RWJF grants cover the cost of tuition for the two-year master’s and four-year doctorate programs, provide stipends for these scholars, and are funding several nurse education pilot programs.

This commitment from RWJF “is transformational,” said Lynn Mertz, deputy director of the New Jersey Nursing Initiative. Eighteen of the scholars have completed the master’s in nursing program, and several have joined nursing school faculties. “They can teach with a master’s but our idea and hope is that the master’s students will continue on for their doctorates,” she said.

Several have landed jobs at Kean University, said Minnie Campbell, executive director of the school of nursing. Last September, Campbell hired two graduates of the Kean master’s in nursing program, and expects to hire another candidate who will earn a master’s in May. Campbell said these individuals plan to pursue their PhDs in nursing while they are teaching at Kean.

New faculty is needed to teach the growing enrollment in the Kean nursing program, and to replace nurse faculty as they retire, Campbell said. There are two PhD nursing programs in the state — at Rutgers University and Seton Hall University — and Kean is seeking state approval to offer a PhD program in nursing.

The economic downturn in 2008 and the slow recovery have alleviated what had been a severe nursing shortage. Recent nursing school graduates are finding it tougher to land jobs, according to Patricia Barnett, chief executive of the New Jersey State Nurses Association. The weak economy caused some older nurses to delay retirement, but Barnett and others expect the nursing shortage to resume as demographics catch up with the state’s 115,000 nurse workforce, whose average age is around 50.

“We have a real crisis on the horizon. The nurse shortage has subsided and jobs are more difficult for new grads to find, but that is the economy. And as the economy improves, the older nurses are going to retire,” said Jeannie Cimiotti, executive director of the New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nurses.

Nurses with a bachelor’s degree are in demand, but the job market for registered nurses with a two-year associate’s degree is difficult, Campbell said. A significant number of New Jersey hospitals have achieved the “magnet hospital” designation, and the education level of the hospital staff is a key factor in gaining magnet status. Kean offers nursing program in five locations, and has a program for RNs with associate’s degrees who want to get their bachelor’s.

Currently, about 47 percent of New Jersey’s RNs have a bachelor’s degree, and a goal of the initiative is to increase that to 80 percent by 2020, at which point there will also be more nurses with master’s and doctorates, Mertz said. As the population ages, “the complexity of medical care is increasing, and we need a highly trained and educated workforce.”

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