Despite a nationwide shortage of nurses, MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing thrives

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | 6:36 p.m. CDT; updated 7:10 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Amy Murdock, left, a staff R.N. at University Hospital's pediatric unit, discusses standards of patient care with student nurse Chelsey McMahon, right, on Oct. 2, 2007. McMahon, a senior at MU's Sinclair School of Nursing, is currently doing her clinicals in pediatrics as part of a four-year nursing program.

A photo caption incorrectly identified Amy Murdock, a registered nurse. This story has been updated to reflect that correction.

Orawan NuKaew left her home in Thailand three years ago to pursue a doctorate at MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing.

She arrived in Columbia. Her money transfer did not.

Luckily, NuKaew was able to take advantage of a scholarship program that, for eight years now, has been funded by an annual golf tournament hosted by the School of Nursing. Fund the Drive for Nurses, which attracted 132 people to this year’s tournament, has so far raised $96,000 for nursing scholarships.

“I want to dedicate more of my time to events like this because I’m really grateful for the help I was able to receive,” NuKaew said, as she helped out at the event, held Oct. 1. at Columbia Country Club.

Rose Porter, dean of the nursing school, said scholarships like NuKaew’s are vital because of the rising educational costs students are facing.

Porter said the Fund the Drive for Nurses tournament highlights the national nursing shortage and the need for nurses.

“I think people in our community are more aware of our needs and how important nurses are to the health field,” she said.

Though some nursing schools around the country have had trouble attracting students, MU’s Sinclair School has reached its capacity in student enrollment.

More than 650 students are in the Nursing School, with another 400 students designated as pre-nursing candidates. While some nursing schools around the country have had trouble attracting students, the Sinclair School of Nursing has reached its capacity.

Porter said that hospital downsizing in the early 1990s led to a decrease in nursing school enrollments around the country.

“At MU, we’ve always been full,” Porter said. “But from a national perspective, many schools were lucky if they were 50 percent filled, and there weren’t enough graduates to fill normal retirement.”

The nationwide shortage of nurses has been a growing concern. The federal government is predicting a shortage of close to 1 million nurses in the U.S. by 2020, according to a report released in July by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute. Porter said the projected shortage, coupled with the aging population of the U.S., is a “perfect storm.”

The growth of U.S. nursing schools has been limited by the difficulty of recruiting enough faculty members. Although applications to nursing schools have been on the rise, the number of students turned away has also increased because of space issues.

The Sinclair School of Nursing has 43 full-time faculty members. While the school has added part-time faculty, tenure-track positions can be difficult to fill, Porter said; the last one took 2½ years to fill. Right now, bringing on more full-time instructors would require that the school add space, she said.

“We’re lucky if we have two to three applicants for open positions,” Porter said. “Sometimes people apply and are not qualified for the tenure track position due to lack of match with the school’s teaching needs and research programs.”

Meanwhile, the demand for nurses has spawned an industry dedicated to locating and filling openings around the country. Elite Nurse Staffing Inc., based in Columbia, helps match nurses looking for work with hospitals or health care facilities that have openings. Lisa Robitaille, who started the company six years ago, sponsored a reception during the Fund the Drive for Nurses golf tournament.

“I’m a nurse and there is a huge shortage of nurses, so anything I can do to help raise awareness of the issue, I’m willing to do,” Robitaille said.

Although the nursing shortage has the potential to be a serious health care problem, it does enhance the career opportunities for those entering the field. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow much faster than average, more than 27 percent, through 2014. Registered nurses are projected to create the second largest number of new jobs among all occupations.

To increase the number of qualified nurses, the School of Nursing has opened its program to students from other disciplines. An accelerated program funded by UM Health Care, begun in 2003, allows people with other degrees to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 15 months.

And starting this fall, Porter said, all master’s degree-level nursing programs are being offered online.

“We began with just making the core courses available, and then we gradually added specialty courses,” said Porter. “Those who receive a master’s degree will then be able to teach students who are working towards a bachelor’s degree.”

Danielle Schrader, a sophomore at MU and a pre-nursing major, will be one of nearly 100 students applying for 55 openings in the nursing program for fall 2008. Schrader said she has been doing volunteer work and working at a hospital to increase her chances for admission.

“There is great job security and so many different opportunities that I’ll be able to go in so many directions,” she said. “I know I’ll always be interested in the field.”

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Amy Murdock October 11, 2007 | 6:15 p.m.

The only thing wrong with this article is that you spelled my name name is Amy MURDOCK!!

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