State program hopes to alleviate nursing shortage (eventually)
By Anissa Baca
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—New Mexico is the first state attempting to standardize one nursing curriculum at all state-funded colleges in the state. The hope is that, over time, the program will graduate more nursing students with four-year degrees. This comes amidst a nationwide nursing educator shortage.
In the short term, however, the nursing shortage actually makes it harder to implement the new curriculum, according to UNM Alumni Relations Officer, Marlena Bermel. She says the nursing shortage limits the number of instructors available, leading to a reduced number of open seats in nursing schools.
“Nursing is complex because there is a great need, but there is a shortage of faculty and clinical spaces and that’s across the country,” Bermel said, “That’s why it’s so competitive.”
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the biggest contributing factor to the nursing shortage is that colleges cannot expand capacity. Many qualified applicants are turned away because nursing colleges do not have enough room.
New curriculum implemented: NMNEC
A new program the UNM College of Nursing is implementing is the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium (NMNEC) curriculum. The program promises, within a few years, to increase the number of students nursing schools can accept.
According to Becky Dakin, the NMNEC Program Leader at the UNM College of Nursing, the NMNEC curriculum is intended to encourage students to obtain a BSN, which can put nurses in higher positions in the workforce.
“If you end your nursing education at the associate’s level and begin to practice, it’s incredibly difficult to go back for more schooling later on,” Dakin said. “A BSN opens up many more opportunities.”
BSN nurses positioned for advanced degrees, faculty roles
With more students obtaining a BSN, more may be encouraged to further their education to receive a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or even a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), Dakin said.
In order to teach nursing at the college level, one must have an MSN or a DNP. With more colleges offering students the BSN option, it is hoped that students will go on to earn these higher degrees. In turn, this could increase the number of teachers available for hire. And that, in the long run makes room for more nursing students in colleges.
“So we don’t have enough nursing faculty, but you have to have people with Bachelor’s degrees who kind of get that bug and say ‘I want to know more, I want to learn more, I want to move on’ to be able to get their PhD and become faculty,” Dakin said.
Before NMNEC, there were only two universities, UNM and New Mexico State University (NMSU), where students could earn a BSN. After NMNEC is implemented, students can obtain this degree at 15 community colleges and two universities across the state.
NMNEC is now implemented at UNM and Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) since January 2014. Other colleges across the state will soon begin the NMNEC program in the upcoming summer and fall semesters.
Marlena Bermel says that NMNEC will also benefit hospitals that hire these students. She says employers will be able to expect the new nurses to be consistently trained.
“I think it will benefit employers because they are going to get the same consistent type of nurse,” Bermel said.
New Mexico is the first state to attempt a standardized curriculum like this. Nursing educators around the state have been developing this curriculum since 2010.
“Other states are watching us and hoping that they will be able to do the same thing,” Dakin said.
Colleges implementing the NMNEC program are making changes to their own programs to meet the NMNEC requirements.
Within these changes, educators are changing their programs to become theory based. This means nursing educators are trying to make students think more critically about aspects of nursing so they can apply them when they are in the workforce.
Current nursing student Mariah Galvez says while this theory based method causes students to think deeper, it doesn’t always prepare students for real life situations.
“I understand why the program has to be theory based, we do need to know the basics and understand the reason why before anything,” Galvez said, “On the other hand, it’s going to be so much different when you’re actually out there working.”
However, students at UNM College of Nursing also receive hands on training throughout their nursing education.
As part of their UNM training, nursing students are required to fulfill a set amount of clinical hours, where they go into hospitals or other similar settings and evaluate current patients.
This also gives students the opportunity to meet future employers on their own.
Galvez is currently completing clinical courses the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Hospital, where she visits with patients and shadows nurses. She says this type of experience is useful to her.
“I feel like there is no better way to practice the field of nursing and see if you like it,” Galvez said.
Galvez hopes to work at this hospital after she graduates in December 2014.
UNM has good retention rates, but nursing shortage persists
According to Bermel, the College of Nursing accepts many native New Mexican applicants into the program. She says it is because of this that they see high retention rates with nursing students, with over 70% of alumni finding work in New Mexico.
Even with high retention rates, New Mexico is still experiencing a nursing shortage.
According to the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence (NMCNE), in 2010, New Mexico was in midst of a nursing shortage due to the lack of faculty and open seats in nursing colleges.
The NMCNE is mentioned in a 2010 New Mexico Health Policy Commission briefing paper, which estimated New Mexico reaching a nursing shortage of 5,000 by the year 2020.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website, a nursing shortage leads nurses to spend less time with patients and decreases the quality of care nurses can give to patients.
Anissa Baca is a journalism student at the University of New Mexico. After graduating in May 2015, she hopes to find a career in broadcast news.