Nursing Schools Feeling the Pinch

OAKLAND — Health care educators said Wednesday that too few faculty and clinical placements are the reasons the state will graduate 50 percent fewer professionals than needed in the next seven years.

“Every program feels maxed out,” said Dr. Arlene Sargent, associate dean of academic affairs at Samuel Merritt College’s School of Nursing.

OAKLAND — Health care educators said Wednesday that too few faculty and clinical placements are the reasons the state will graduate 50 percent fewer professionals than needed in the next seven years.

“Every program feels maxed out,” said Dr. Arlene Sargent, associate dean of academic affairs at Samuel Merritt College’s School of Nursing.

More than 200 potential students, she said, showed up last Saturday for the school’s open house, but the college has room for only 40 students in the school’s nursing program.

A study released Monday by the Campaign for College Opportunity, funded jointly by Kaiser Permanente and the California Wellness Foundation portrayed a crisis as the population continues to grow and age.

Educators, however, said one of the few solutions they see is the creation of more joint appointments where faculty earn a mix of professional and academic salary.

Attracting qualified full-time faculty to the state’s nursing schools is difficult when a new graduate can make $20,000 more than experienced professors, said Sargent. Beginning nurses working evening shifts can take home more than $90,000 per year, compared to an average faculty salary of $70,000, she said.

“I know colleagues in the service sector who say, ‘I would love to teach, but I can’t take the lifestyle hit,’” said Sargent.

Jan Boller, project director of the Nursing Education Redesign in California, a 12-month grant-funded collaboration between professionals, academics, and government officials designed to study the state’s nursing shortage agreed: “I’m making half in the academic side than I was in the clinical side.”

Though Samuel Merritt College will bring two joint appointments on board next year, the strategy as a whole, is “highly conceptual, at this point,” said Boller.

There are also more student nurses who need clinical placements in hospitals than such positions, which require oversight by a faculty advisor, Sargent said.

Hospitals have been increasingly limiting the ratios of student-to-faculty advisors allowed in the clinical setting, Boller said.

To address this, some nurses at colleges and universities throughout the state work in simulation centers where mannequins hooked up to computers stand in for real patients.

“By doing more clinical work in a simulated environment, we’re freeing up some of the clinical placements for other students,” said Sargent.

Boller added, “The old days of students practicing their skills on patients is headed by the wayside.”

But simulation centers are expensive to install and operate and require faculty to be retrained and curriculum to be reworked, she said.

“We’ve got a long way to go before every student has access,” she said.