By Sterling Fluharty
Nursing education, across the state and in Rio Rancho, is rising to meet the challenge of training more healthcare professionals and providing the population with greater access to healthcare.
Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez approved millions in the state budget to significantly increase the number of students enrolled in bachelor’s of science in nursing programs at colleges and universities across the state in fiscal year 2015.
Three times a year, starting this fall, the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College will admit 64 students into their joint BSN program, with 24 students in each cohort studying primarily at Rio Rancho campuses, said Diane Evans-Prior, who runs the nursing program at CNM.
Previously, the CNM Rio Rancho campus trained 50 nurses between 2010 and 2013, the Observer reported in September.
CNM Rio Rancho has limited lab space for nursing courses, according to Evans-Prior, and UNM West is already looking for ways to add biology and chemistry labs to its campus, according to recent presentations to UNM Regents.
Martinez announced in November a new common nursing curriculum at the baccalaureate level. The new program will allow students to complete BSN programs in their home communities and provide for a seamless transfer and sharing of resources between campuses.
CNM will provide courses for 96 credits in the new BSN program, Evans-Prior said, with UNM offering the remaining couple dozen credits needed for graduation.
Dr. Debra Brady, who oversees nursing education at UNM, could not predict how many students would enroll in the program. She said the colleges would have to find resources for new faculty and lab space.
State rules require a 1-to-8 ratio between nursing instructors and students in clinical settings and sites.
Susan Williams, director of the RN to BSN Program at New Mexico Highlands University, said she has seen an increase in the number of registered nurses with associate’s degrees who have come back to school to earn bachelor’s degrees. Highlands Rio Rancho Center does not offer nursing courses, Williams said.
Angela Ward, director of patient care services at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, said Presbyterian increased its educational requirements. All new nurses have to sign an agreement to complete their bachelor’s degree within 60 months. Between 50 and 75 percent of nurses at Rust have been trained in New Mexico, Ward said, and many nursing students in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho participate in clinical rotations at Rust.
Lovelace Health System does not have a mandate requiring BSN degrees of nurses, according to Nancye Cole, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Lovelace Westside Hospital. “However, Lovelace encourages BSN clinical rotations.”
The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2010 on the future of nursing. It presented evidence that patients fare better under BSN nurses and called for a national nursing workforce that would be 80 percent BSN-trained by 2020.
New Mexico currently has a shortage of more than 2,000 RNs that could reach 5,000 by 2020 if the state’s colleges and universities fail to train more nurses to meet the demands of an aging population and increased access to health care, according to the 2013 Annual Report of the New Mexico Health Workforce Committee.
Pam Demarest, chief nursing officer at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, which is a teaching hospital, said she will soon survey her nursing workforce to determine their educational levels and set goals to reach the 80 percent standard in 2020.
UNM, CNM and SRMC will meet in the coming weeks and months, Demarest said, to figure out the final details of the nursing program that, in August, will launch at UNM West and expand at CNM Rio Rancho.