RN applicants shut out

Nurses: A glut of candidates and too few openings in colleges have schools scrambling to raise capacity.

March 17, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

The death of Hilde Carter's 16-year-old son -- hit by a drunken driver while walking in 2001 -- cemented her desire to become a nurse and help other people during times of trauma.

But the Port Deposit resident had to be persistent -- despite decent grades in prerequisite classes, she was twice among the hundreds turned away from packed nursing programs before finally landing a coveted slot.

"I think we all have a purpose here on Earth," said Carter, 51, who started nursing classes last spring at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. "I think this is what I'm supposed to be doing."

Nurses are badly needed in hospitals and other health care settings, but thousands of applicants have been turned away from community colleges across the state in recent years for lack of space, particularly in programs that train the type of nurses most in demand: registered nurses.

"I have more applicants now than I know what to do with," said Beth Anne Batturs, director of nursing at Anne Arundel Community College, where more than 200 people are vying for 56 spots in the fall.

Crunched by a severe shortage of nursing faculty and limits on clinical space for hands-on practice, many community colleges are looking for creative ways to increase capacity:

Howard Community College is planning to start a 12-month fast-track option, which will allow qualified RN students to graduate in half of the traditional two years by taking classes during the summer and winter breaks.

The school also plans to add a spring admissions date starting in 2005. In addition to opening the doors to more new students, it would allow students who did not succeed in the first semester to start over right away, said Emily Slunt, chairwoman of the health sciences division at HCC.

Anne Arundel Community College is revising its curriculum and plans to start offering a spring enrollment period, Batturs said.

Montgomery College has two annual admission dates and is seeking funds to start an 18-month accelerated RN program, according to the director of nursing.

Carroll Community College leaders say the school is seeking approval from the State Board of Nursing to start an RN program this fall. The school has a program for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and a transfer agreement with Frederick Community College for students seeking their RN degrees.

Fitting in at CCBC

At CCBC, more than 600 students have applied for 168 spots in the next class, said Roberta Raymond, nursing program administrator. The school offers twice-yearly admissions at its Essex and Catonsville campuses.

CCBC proved to be the right fit for Carter, who was an insurance claims adjuster and a single mother of four when her son Jason encouraged her to go back to school. She had taken some classes in the late 1990s.

After Jason's death in 2001, she said, she lost her job and "I kept thinking God has a reason for everything. ... I felt like I needed to change."

Now she is earning her associate's degree, working as a waitress and using her little spare time lobbying the state legislature about a bill to require drug and alcohol testing on drivers involved in serious or fatal car accidents.

She said programs being pursued by community colleges would be beneficial if they helped other people avoid a yearlong wait like the one she had.

Applications up 400%

Similar strategies have offered some relief at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore, the state's largest nursing school, where the need for greater capacity is also an issue.

"Undoubtedly, we, as well as community colleges, will be turning away qualified applicants," said Mary Etta Mills, the university's associate dean for academic affairs. She said applications to bachelor's degree nursing programs have increased 400 percent from last year and this year.

The rush is driven in part by the economy, Mills said, and in part by the public's awareness about the availability of good nursing jobs. Many students arrive with bachelor's degrees in other fields, she said. And a lot of people, she added, are driven by a desire to work closely with patients and their families.

Maryland's supply of registered nurses is projected to fall short of demand by 8 percent next year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The statewide gap is expected to reach 27 percent -- about 13,000 nurses -- by 2015. That year, the national supply is projected to have a deficit of 507,000, or 20 percent.

More than half of the graduates eligible for the Registered Nurse Licensure exams have associates degrees, according to the Maryland Association for Associate Degree Nursing.

Educational options

Association board member Fran Leibfreid, director of nursing education at Allegany College of Maryland, said community colleges can attract students who want a faster, more economical or more local educational option.

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