Back to School: From the Clinic to the Classroom

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Sep 22, 2011

Laptop? Check. Textbooks? Check. B.S.N.? M.S.N.? Ph.D.? In progress.
This fall, thousands of nurses in New Jersey are headed back to school. If last year is any indication, more than half will be enrolled in an R.N. to B.S.N. program, and more than 45 percent will be enrolled in a graduate program. Last year, 85 nursing students began pursuing a Ph.D. or D.N.P.

“I would like to extend a warm welcome to all nurses returning to academia,” said Susan Bakewell-Sachs, Ph.D., R.N., P.N.P.-B.C., interim provost of The College of New Jersey and New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI) program director. “Their commitment to continuing education is exactly what is needed in New Jersey, to meet the demands for registered nurses with baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees”

The state’s nurse faculty shortage is alarming, Bakewell-Sachs said. Many faculty members at New Jersey nursing schools are approaching retirement, and there are not enough people in the pipeline to fill their positions.

Filling nurse faculty positions is complicated by the fact that relatively few practicing nurses have the qualifications to teach. All nurse faculty in New Jersey must hold at least a master’s degree.

“We have seen some progress, but we are still a long way from where we need to be. Together with partners across the state, we’re working to make sure our nurses will be better prepared, our patients better attended and our health care system stronger,” Bakewell-Sachs added.

A Strong Push for Education
Last year the Institute of Medicine released a groundbreaking report—The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health—that provided recommendations for the nursing profession, including strengthening nurse education and training.

Under the guidance of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), regional Action Coalitions are being established across the country to implement the report’s recommendations. NJNI is a partner in this effort in New Jersey, and serves as the coordinating office for the New Jersey Action Coalition, an advocacy organization led by a team of recognized and highly-respected leaders in health and health care. Of the Coalition’s four volunteer-led work groups, one is tasked with developing and implementing plans to advance and strengthen nurse education. It is doing so by exploring innovative models, such as a state-wide nurse residency pilot program. [See “Building a Stronger Nursing Workforce: The Case for Nurse Residency in NJ” in this issue of the newsletter.]

The work of the New Jersey Action Coalition builds upon the foundational work of NJNI to transform nursing education in the state. Since its launch in 2009, NJNI has been helping bridge the divide between nursing academia and practice, and has been successful in broadening the conversation and bringing new partners to the table, including business and philanthropy.

Getting to the Head of the Class
Through its Faculty Preparation Program, NJNI is attracting younger nurses to faculty roles and developing new curriculum models to enhance existing nurse education programs. In August, NJNI celebrated a milestone with the graduation of 18 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Jersey Nursing Scholars, the first from the program to graduate. Many of these new graduates will begin their careers as nurse faculty, teaching in New Jersey nursing schools this fall.

For those still enrolled in graduate programs, the Nursing Academic Resource Center of New Jersey, has become an integral part of their educational development. It is supported by the Partners Investing in Nursing's Future program, a partnership of the Northwest Health Foundation and RWJF, and seven local funders, led by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, is housed within NJNI. It is a two-year pilot program that is providing support to graduate nursing students in scholarly writing at 12 institutions in the state. In its first year, it has become a tremendous resource for students, helping more than 800 receive the support they need to succeed in their careers. Faculty have benefited from the program also as they have appreciated having a tool to offer their students. To date, more than 50 faculty have been trained and are integrating the program into their courses.

“We have made great strides in making education more accessible to nurses and prospective nurses in New Jersey, graduating our first class of New Jersey Nursing Scholars who will go on to teach and simplifying the application process. These achievements are significant, and as their outcomes are felt across the state, our health care system and our citizens’ health will benefit,” said Bakewell-Sachs.

“Our successes are possible because of our exceptional partners. Business, philanthropic and civic leaders have all come to the table as real collaborators, providing invaluable insight and support. As the school year begins anew, we recommit to solving the challenges before us and making New Jersey a model for the country in nurse education,” she added.

For more information on the New Jersey Action Coalition, and to get involved, click here. To learn about NJNI’s other programs, click here.