NJ Nursing Initiative Sees Progress in Cutting Professor Shortage

Andrew Kitchenman | November 20, 2012 | Health Care
Ten doctoral students to graduate in May through RWJ Foundation-backed program

New Jersey needs nurses to train the next generation of nurses, and a three-year-old program is helping to do just that, state legislators were told on Monday.

Representatives of the New Jersey Nursing Initiative said the program is working to address a projected shortfall in faculty members, which is an obstacle to increasing the total number of nurses in the state.

The initiative has recruited 61 nurses into its faculty preparation program, encouraging them to choose a career path that would otherwise be difficult to pursue due to financial constraints. The first 10 doctoral students in the program are on track to graduate this spring.

Doctoral student Maria Torchia LoGrippo said the initiative allowed her to pursue her dream of being a nursing professor while studying full-time and caring for her two young children and her mother, who died after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

“Looking back, I now know for sure that I would not have been able to combine work and school without support from the New Jersey Nursing Initiative,” Torchia LoGrippo said.

New Jersey faces a significant shortage of nursing faculty, with 10.5 percent of faculty positions vacant, and a projected shortage in nurses of 23,358 fewer than needed by 2030, according to initiative officials.

The demographics of the profession will have to change in the coming years, since the average age of a nursing faculty member in New Jersey is 55 and the average age of nurses in the state is 51.

The initiative was launched in part to prepare for this change. Started in 2009, it is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which provides most of its funding, and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The $30 million effort was set to expire this year but has been extended through 2016.

The program, which funds both masters-level and doctoral students, pays for tuition and fees and provides a $50,000 stipend and a laptop computer, so that nurses can choose to study full-time without having to work.

Mary Ann Christopher, chairwoman of the initiative’s national advisory committee, said the initiative was the result of a pressing need to change nursing education.

“If left unaddressed, New Jersey’s nursing shortage would greatly reduce access to care, reduce quality, weaken our delivery system and negatively affect the health of our communities,” Christopher said.

John Lumpkin, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the initiative removes one of the economic barriers to a career as a nurse faculty member, allowing students to pursue a degree full-time.

The benefits will spread beyond the graduates becoming teachers, Lumpkin said. “These master’s- and Ph.D.-prepared nurses also conduct the kind of research that this state and our country urgently need, as health reform is implemented and more patients enter our healthcare system.”

For example, Torchia LoGrippo’s doctoral dissertation is focusing on prenatal care among low-income women.

Lumpkin said the initiative is a model that can be replicated across the country, adding that of the $1.5 billion his foundation has invested in New Jersey, “nothing makes us prouder than our support for the New Jersey Nursing Initiative.”

Initiative Director Susan Bakewell-Sachs said the program’s work has spread beyond the funding for graduate students. It has launched an online academic resource site for 1,600 graduate nursing students at 12 New Jersey nursing schools, as well as a site that provides information about becoming a nursing faculty member, WeTeachNursingNJ.com.

While officials of the program didn’t make specific requests of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, the legislators said they were impressed with the initiative’s work.

Sen. Fred H. Madden Jr. (D-Camden and Gloucester) noted that it is challenging to convince nurses to becoming nursing professors. Salaries for community college assistant professors can be less than $50,000, while registered nurses can be paid more than $80,000.

Madden questioned the state’s requirement that nursing faculty members hold a master’s degree, saying that he knows nurses with executive experience who are qualified to teach.

Bakewell-Sachs said the graduate degree is necessary so that all faculty members have experience with advanced courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology and physical examinations.

Christopher added that the initiative’s nursing faculty preparation was designed for nurses who have clinical experience.

“That was intentional,” Christopher said, adding that the students gain both academic knowledge and understand “the needs of the healthcare delivery system.”

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jeffrey Scheininger said business owners want to see the supply of nurses increase to improve the quality of the healthcare they provide their employees. The company he owns, Flexline/U.S. Brass & Copper Corp., has seen its healthcare spending stay constant during a three-year period in which is payroll shrank by 25 percent.

“Believe me when I say I want to be sure that money is well-spent, and that my employees are well-served,” Scheininger said.

Colleen Manzetti, an assistant professor of nursing at Monmouth University, said the shortage of nursing faculty members has reduced the number of nursing graduates. While serving as interim dean of Ocean County College’s School of Nursing, Manzetti said,she saw 2,000 nursing students wait up to two years for places in the college’s classes.

A separate pressure on the number of nurses was raised during the committee hearing.

Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Atlantic, Burlington and Camden) said residents were concerned about the delays in being licensed as a nurse. New Jersey State Nurses Association chief executive director Patricia Barnett said the state has the most stringent nursing requirements in the country, including a background check system that has a limited capacity and can require nurses to wait for several months.

“The impact is that people think twice about coming to New Jersey to work,” Barnett said. She said association officials have met with state Board of Nursing officials to discuss the problem.

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