Meeting a Need for Nurses

By Anita Smith

nursesWhere have all the nurses gone? Universities and health-care organizations around the United States, caught up in the most severe nursing shortage in more than 50 years, are desperately seeking answers to that question. According to the latest projections, 55 percent of registered nurses currently practicing will retire by 2020; by then, the nation will be facing a shortfall of 340,000 R.N.s.

Disturbing statistics like these are the catalyst for an innovative collaborative effort between the UAB School of Nursing and the UAB Health System. Beginning this summer, the School of Nursing will offer an accelerated master's degree track designed specifically for students who have already earned degrees in other fields.

On the Fast Track

The Accelerated Master's Nursing Entry Track has already generated a great deal of interest from potential students, says Doreen C. Harper, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the nursing school. "Some currently have careers in which they mostly work with ‘things,' and they have decided they want to work with people," she says. "We are hearing from individuals who want to retool, re-engineer, and redesign their careers—they see nursing as their career for a lifetime."

The UAB Health System, which is very interested in increasing its pool of qualified nurses, has committed $1 million over two years to help fund the new program.

"This is a win for students who want to enter nursing and earn a master's degree," says Health System interim CEO Ray Watts, M.D. "It's a win for the School of Nursing, which will benefit from expanded enrollment. And it's a win for future nurse recruitment by the UAB Health System, which is the top recruiter of UAB nursing graduates. When Dean Harper explained what could be done with this master's track, it was a no-brainer to support it."

The Leaders of Tomorrow

A major attraction for students is the dual opportunity to enter the nursing profession and earn a graduate degree, says Harper. "This track will develop graduates who can be clinical leaders at the bedside, which our health-care system needs," she explains. "Ultimately, some graduates will join nursing-school faculties, where they will be strong assets by virtue of having first worked as competent professional nurses."

Completing the accelerated track will require 24 to 36 months, depending on how rapidly a student chooses to finish the master's requirements. During the first year, enrollees must be full-time students. "A compacted, five-day-a-week curriculum has been tailored, with consolidated classroom, laboratory, and clinical content and minimal intervals between semesters," says Harper. At the end of the first year, qualified students will be eligible to take the licensure exam to become registered nurses.

They will then begin practice as they continue to study, enrolling in graduate-level coursework and also working in a UAB postgraduate nurse residency that is operated jointly by UAB Hospital and by the UAB School of Nursing.

"This new track will attract high-quality candidates who otherwise likely would never become nurses," says Harper. "And since the program is based in Alabama, we can turn out nursing graduates who are likely to remain in Alabama to work."