Nursing Schools' New Remedies for Low Enrollment

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Nursing Schools' New Remedies for Low Enrollment


Byline: Lisa Rauschart, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Thirty or more years ago, practically every girl wanted to be Cherry Ames, that intrepid nurse-sleuth of juvenile fiction who pursued a peripatetic career while solving exciting mysteries of every description.

Things are different these days, with the nation facing a shortage of nurses. Enrollment in nursing programs is down nationwide, while the average age of nurses continues to rise. Few young people have even heard of Cherry Ames, much less considered nursing a viable career.

So what's a nursing school to do?

For one thing, remind the public that the nursing profession is not at all what it was 30 years ago. In the Washington area, where enrollment numbers actually are up from a few years ago, nursing schools boast aggressive recruitment drives that start as early as the high school level and encourage moving to nursing as a second career.

Forget Cherry Ames. The face of nursing has changed, too, with more nurses pursuing advanced degrees in a variety of fields that Ames probably never would have imagined. A campaign even exists to recruit more gasp men into the profession.

"This is not your grandmother's nursing," promises the Web site for Georgetown University's School of Nursing and Health Studies.

"Nursing has changed, will change now and needs to change again," says Bette Keltner, dean and professor at Georgetown's nursing school, which is celebrating its centennial.

That means that nurses, and nursing schools, have to be ready to change with the times. For area nursing schools, that means fundamental curricular changes that highlight critical thinking and problem-solving practices along with anatomy and physiology.

"Nurses don't fetch and carry anymore," Mrs. Keltner says. "This is a knowledge-driven industry."

The old ward-based nursing of yesteryear is long gone. Insurance companies and health maintenance organizations send home individuals who 30 years ago would have spent their recovery time in a hospital, leaving the sickest patients in nurses' care. Meanwhile, new technology allows nurses to run procedures that once were performed only by physicians, while nurses work both as collaborators with physicians and independent thinkers who put together plans for preventive care.

"The world of health care has demanded change," says Ann Marie Brooks, dean of the School of Nursing at Catholic University, "but there are more opportunities within health care than ever before."

As administrators of area nursing programs are quick to point out, the nursing profession itself is far from moribund. Those same challenges that have prompted the current crisis in the profession also have prompted new directions for nursing from nurse practitioner to midwifery to forensics that are attracting a far wider range of students.

"I've always been interested in health throughout my life," says Josephine Amadu, a first-year student in an accelerated nursing program at Georgetown University who boasts a bachelor's degree in sociology and English and a master's degree in international development. "Having polio as a child in Sierra Leone helped me to be able to see health care in more than one perspective."

To meet the needs of their wide-ranging student populations, area schools offer a variety of nursing tracks, from the bachelor of science in nursing to master's and doctoral programs that allow more advanced study.

"We want students to be in nursing for a longer period of time," says Mary O'Rourke, director of Admissions and Student Services at Johns Hopkins University. "Our most popular program right now is our accelerated degree program that gets them into actual nursing even faster."

Most area colleges also offer students a second-degree program option, which brings individuals with experience in often unrelated fields to nursing. …

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