Mason Programs Address Nursing Shortage

Posted: May 11, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

With 16,000 vacant nursing positions expected in the Northern Virginia area by 2020, Mason is helping to head off this emerging crisis by addressing the preparation of future nurse educators.

Specifically, Mason is working to make its existing PhD and master’s-level programs more accessible to new nursing graduates to fill the expected void in nurse educators as more and more baby boomer professors retire.

“We are not keeping up with current demand for nursing faculty, and the projections for the future are overwhelming unless we begin a major culture change in the way we provide advanced nursing education and the ways that students enroll in our programs,” says Shirley Travis, dean of Mason’s College of Health and Human Services (CHHS).

“The good news is that every crisis is also an opportunity to rethink what we are doing and to make wise and important decisions for future direction.”

Mason is developing new curriculum plans, expected to be in place for the fall 2008 semester, for its master’s and PhD students. These plans will compress the amount of time needed to complete a second degree by eliminating duplicate course content in the path from a bachelor’s in nursing to a PhD in the field. In an effort to make the programs more accessible to all nurses, the plans will have a special focus on keeping new graduates in clearly defined career paths that include obtaining graduate degrees early in their careers.

“Under discussion are models that would allow students with degrees in other fields to exit the nursing program with a master’s degree in nursing and bypass the bachelor’s degree completely,” notes Chris Langley, director of Mason’s School of Nursing.

In addition to curriculum reform, faculty in the School of Nursing are developing incentive packages, such as scholarship assistance and improved access, such as distance education options, that will encourage students to study full time and move through the program faster.

Travis explains that many new nurses enter practice immediately upon graduation and do not go back to school for many years, if ever. Nurses who eventually seek their PhD in the field have a more difficult time advancing through the ranks of academe and matching or exceeding their prior earning potential as experienced clinical nurses.

“Because Mason is the only state university in the region with graduate nursing programs in place, we have both the capacity and an obligation to address this important aspect of the nursing shortage,” says Travis.

“The long term well-being of all nursing education programs in the commonwealth depends on a strong pipeline of nurse educators.”

In addition to its efforts in developing more attractive programs for advanced degree students, Mason is also working alongside other universities and organizations to address the pending nursing shortage.

For example, Mason is a member of the Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing, which is developing a plan to help make faculty positions in Virginia more attractive to potential candidates. The group has already secured a 10 percent raise in state faculty nursing salaries, which was recently approved by Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine.

Mason has been a member of the Northern Virginia Health Care Workforce Alliance since 2005, working with leaders from the region’s business, academic and health care communities to establish a long-term strategy for addressing the shortage in the region’s health care workforce.

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