A gift for nursing


University of Florida nursing student Cynthia Trainer, seated, supervises University of North Florida nursing student Mary Freeman while she takes an unidentified patient's vital signs.

Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 at 11:39 p.m.

Facts

AT A GLANCE: Nursing shortage

  • Florida has 187,944 licensed registered nurses.
  • The state needs an estimated 34,000 more nurses.
  • That number is projected to hit 61,000 by the year 2020.
  • 8.1 percent of the nursing positions in area hospitals are vacant, about average for the state.
    - Florida Hospital Association

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida will donate $1.2 million to the University of Florida and University of North Florida to help address critical issues in nursing education.
    The state of Florida will provide $420,000 to each university to help match the gifts of the Jacksonville-based insurance company. The announcement was made Tuesday at Shands Jacksonville.
    The shortage of trained nurses has been a continuing problem in Florida. The Florida Hospital Association estimates that 34,000 more nurses now are needed statewide; that number is expected to hit 61,000 by the year 2020.
    "Clearly, the nursing shortage we face is severe, protracted and likely to get worse before it gets better," warned Dean Kathleen Long, who heads UF's College of Nursing. "This is not going to be a quick-fix turnaround."
    Both nationally and within the state, Long said, the number of men and women enrolling and graduating from nursing school has been on the rise. But those numbers cannot keep pace with the growing demand for new nurses and the retirement of older nurses.
    Long said the No. 1 reason why schools such as UF and UNF cannot enroll the large number of applicants wanting to become nurses is because there are no longer enough nursing faculty members.
    "UF has been a leader in advocating better education for nurses, and this gift will enable us to address the critical need for new nursing faculty," UF President Bernie Machen said in accepting the BCBSF gift.
    At UF, the money will be used to expand the North Florida Ph.D. Consortium, which uses distance-learning programs to enable nursing students at several Florida universities to have access to doctoral-level nursing education.
    "We have an accelerated baccalaureate program that takes people with a degree in another field - be it history or biology - and moves them in 14 months to become baccalaureate prepared nurses. They can then enter the workforce or a graduate program that will move them closer to a faculty role." Long explained.
    Twenty-eight students enrolled in the program in 2003, the first year it was offered. The class of 2006 will have 45 members.
    "In addition, we have a fast-track program for students who come straight from high school to earn a bachelor's degree," she explained. "We move them on through a master's and Ph.D. program, so that ideally by the time they are about 25, they will be fully qualified faculty members with an academic career ahead of them."
    Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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