Nurses with two-year degrees attend a class called "Nursing… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
Driven by two trends — the graying of the profession and a bedeviling national nursing shortage — Baltimore-area colleges and universities are expanding programs to not only train the next generation of nurses but address a looming shortage in their own faculty ranks.
New, accelerated graduate programs at schools such as the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and Stevenson University have been formed recently to make it more convenient for current nurses to obtain advanced degrees, and hopefully use those newly acquired skills to train other nurses.
Other programs are aimed at students trying to break into the field that's expected to be a bright spot in a dismal job market. The College of Notre Dame of Maryland, for instance, is starting an entry-level bachelor's degree next fall.
Several new post-baccalaureate certificate programs at the University of Maryland School of Nursing also were approved this year by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the state agency that reviews college curriculum, in addition to other new programs. And a couple of applications are pending, including at Coppin State University, which is seeking to create a doctorate in nursing.
The student demand is intense. U.S. nursing schools turned away 54,991 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2009, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Area college officials say they do have plenty of applicants but are limited in how many students they can accept because of the small size of their programs.
"Schools can't accept all the interested applicants," said Judith Feustle, an associate dean of nursing in the graduate and professional studies school at Stevenson University. "We know we need to get more educators."
Like most of the country, Maryland is facing a shortage of nurses as the population ages and needs more medical care. Some health care experts think the problem could worsen as federal reform extends insurance coverage to thousands of new patients when it is fully implemented in 2014.
State labor officials expect a shortfall of 12,300 nurses in Maryland by 2015. Nationally, more than 1 million new nurses will be needed to replace those leaving the profession and to serve the growing number of people expected to need medical care, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Compounding the problem is a lack of faculty to train nurses. Many nursing professors are nearing retirement. The average age for nurses was 46 in 2008, according to the federal Division of Nursing in the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Sue Blanshan, director of academic affairs for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said "there has certainly been an increase in program proposals."
"We've seen an increase in both types of educational nursing programs — the clinical side of nursing and those to expand the teaching nursing work force," she said.
She also noted that colleges can review proposals for new programs at other schools and object if they think there is no need. Some proposals have spurred controversy as competitor colleges and universities argue against others duplicating their programs.
But there haven't been any objections to new nursing programs, Blanshan said.
Some of the new nursing programs are adopting curriculum models to better accommodate students. Many nurses find it difficult to go back to school once they have started working in the profession, health experts said. Their shift-work hours can make it hard to take classes, or like anyone else, they get caught up with the constraints of everyday life.
Stevenson, which established its nursing program in 1991, is trying to address the time crunch for working nurses with its first master's program for those in the profession. The online program — with concentrations in education and leadership — is an accelerated program with eight-week semesters that allow students to get a degree in half the time it would normally take. It began accepting students this fall.
"We all think we do too much and keep too many balls in the air," Feustle said. "The idea of taking eight weeks for coursework is much more palatable to people."
Nursing is a second career for Gina Yurek of Ellicott City, who entered the profession in 1993. Yurek, a Greater Baltimore Medical Center nurse who cares for patients after surgery, just entered the Stevenson master's program and hopes to teach after graduating. Yurek said nurses work long hours and often find it hard to go back to school. Financial hurdles also exist.
"This program is very flexible," she said of the Stevenson degree.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing will enroll students in an accelerated master's program in January. The degree includes a paid clinical residency that would eventually qualify the students to serve as clinical faculty. The school plans to enroll 10 students the first year and an additional 25 each year after that.