Nursing schools expanding facilities, programs, partnerships
By Charlotte Libov
New programs, new buildings and new partnerships with hospitals are helping area nursing schools increase enrollment in an effort to alleviate a nursing shortage here.
But officials say that unless housing becomes more affordable here, the county will continue to lose nurses and nursing faculty to other regions.
Florida International University's school of nursing became the College of Nursing and Health Science recently as part of a reorganization in preparation for the opening of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in 2008, said Divina Grossman, the nursing school's dean.
The nursing program at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, meanwhile, is moving into a new building and has doubled its student enrollment in the past three years.
Miami-Dade College is initiating partnerships with two area hospitals and hopes to add a graduate nursing program.
The South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association is to hold a conference Monday in Weston titled "Housing South Florida's Healthcare Workforce: How to Make It "Affordable' Again!" Details: (954) 964-1600.
"There are a number of reasons for the nursing shortage, and one of the paramount ones is the cost of the housing market," said Linda Quick, executive director of the association.
According to Ralph Egues, executive director of the Nursing Shortage Consortium of South Florida, the state needs 34,000 more nurses and expects to need 61,000 by 2020.
The average age of a Florida nurse is 48, Ms. Quick said.
"Because of managed care," said Mr. Egues, "we ended up with shorter hospital stays, so there was a drop in hospital services and a corresponding reduction in the workforce. At the same time, in the late '80s and early '90s, nontraditional careers opened up for women — such as business and law — so fewer women ended up in nursing.
"On one hand, the nurses are older and starting to retire," he said. "But on the other hand, you have Baby Boomers coming here, and that has increased the demand for nurses. So we haven't kept up with the replenishment of them."
The high cost of housing in Miami-Dade County makes replenishing the workforce difficult, he said. According to a recent housing survey, the average price for a 2,200-square-foot home in the county is $690,855, more than $200,000 above the national average.
"We need housing in the $250,000 range and below," Mr. Egues said. "Somewhat above $300,000 is too high."
Hospitals are feeling the pinch, said Bo Boulenger, CEO of Baptist Hospital of Miami. "It's extremely difficult to have adequate numbers of skilled nurses available to you — in particular when you're growing"
At FIU, the upgrading of the nursing school means the university will be able to forge a collaborative training effort with students from its new medical college.
"We have a unique opportunity to create something new because we do not have an established college. So we can create a new curriculum where medical students and nursing students work together in teams," Ms. Grossman said. "This will put medical-school students and nursing students on equal footing. This is all the buzz in medical education. There are very few programs in the country like this."
In addition, FIU is expanding its accelerated nursing-school program to enable the school to train 96 foreign-born physicians each year. In addition, the program will be offered to 15 students in Tampa through a long-distance system, she said. The program was created by the Hospital Corporation of America and the US Department of Labor but received state funding this year, she said.
FIU has 780 students enrolled in all of its nursing programs, Ms. Grossman said.
The university has received funding to create a nurse-education track as part of its master's degree program.
"We have a critical and continuing nursing shortage, but one of the reasons for this is that we don't have enough nursing faculty," Ms. Grossman said.
At the University of Miami, the School of Nursing and Health Studies is to move into the M. Christine Schwartz Center for Nursing Education, a new 53,000-square-foot building, within the next few weeks. That will consolidate the nursing programs, currently housed in a former fraternity building, and enable students to train in a "topnotch, state-of-the-art facility," which enables nursing students to play out scenarios on "patients," said Nilda P. Peragallo, the school's dean.
"We're very excited to be moving into this facility that has rooms set up like hospital beds, with simulated mannequins who breathe and talk," she said.
The program is "in a period of dynamic change," in which the enrollment has doubled to about 600 students in three years, Ms. Peragallo said.
About 70 students are enrolled in UM's fast-track nursing program, in which people who have degrees from other professions can obtain a nursing degree in 12 months. This is "a program that allowed us to increase our enrollment and help with the shortage," she said.
UM has a new acute care master's program and is expanding its doctoral program, Ms. Peragallo said.
But the university is finding it difficult to compete, particularly for nursing faculty members. So UM is launching a program to provide housing aid for all faculty members, not just those teaching nursing, she said.
"Everyone realizes that it is an issue to recruit faculty. This investment is being made for faculty members that are tenure-track and have tenure. Also, the bursting a little bit of the housing bubble is helping us — especially the condo bubble."
Miami Dade College student nurses are trained at Baptist Hospital, but the school is awaiting approval from the state Board of Nursing to offer training at Jackson Memorial Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center, said K.K. Bentil, president of the medical-center campus. In addition, Miami Dade College applied in August to the state board of education to offer a four-year nursing degree, he added, but has not yet received word.
"We have a lot of support from the hospitals on this," he said. "A lot of students who go to community college and are in a nurturing environment for two years want to come back for a four-year program."
Like the other medical educators, Mr. Bentil said the high cost of living here is making it difficult to attract nursing faculty. "The college is exploring options to try to help, but we don't have the funds to offer incentives."