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FOR THE RECORD: Debra Brady, an associate professor and education team leader at the University of New Mexico College of Nursing, was misidentified in this story. Also, Carolyn Roberts is executive director of the New Mexico Nurses Association, not the New Mexico Board of Nursing.

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          For Antonette Santistevan and 31 other first-year nursing students, their first day of class at Central New Mexico Community College's new campus in Rio Rancho arrived more quickly than they could have imagined earlier this year.
        "I've waited for a really long time to get in, and I'm so excited," Santistevan said Thursday just minutes before the start of her first clinical instruction class. She applied to CNM's nursing program in February 2009. "I was jumping when I got the e-mail telling me I would get in."
        Santistevan, 30, received word in May that she could begin nursing classes this month. The e-mail surprised her because CNM officials earlier had told Santistevan that she would likely begin nursing classes in September 2011, although there was a chance she could start in January 2011.
    For years, aspiring nurses have had to remain on a waiting list for up to two years to enroll in CNM's nursing program, which operates one of the state's largest. This year, the opening of CNM's Rio Rancho campus allowed the community college to enroll 112 first-year nursing students, up from 80 students the program typically admits each semester, eliminating the waiting list.
        Now, students admitted into the nursing program are assured enrollment in CNM's associate's degree nursing program within about four months.
        "We really want our students to come in immediately" after they complete required courses such as anatomy and physiology, said Diane Evans-Prior, CNM's nursing programs chairwoman. "We would like to see them get this nursing program knocked out in a three-year period."
        The expansion of CNM's nursing program is good news for New Mexico, which faces a long-term nursing shortage, said Carolyn Roberts, executive director of the New Mexico Nurses Association.
        "The nursing shortage is ongoing, although some new graduates are having trouble finding jobs," she said.
        A weak economy has temporarily masked the shortage, Roberts said. Some hospitals have opted to save money by convincing experienced nurses to work longer hours and delay retirement. The strategy is a cheaper and "short-sighted" alternative to hiring recent graduates, who are costly to train, she said.
        Many older nurses are willing to work longer because they have watched their retirement savings depleted by the recession, she said. New Mexico's 16,000 registered nurses average 54 years of age, she said.
        A report issued last year by the New Mexico Higher Education Department projected that the demand for RNs will exceed supply by 4,600 by 2015.
        New Mexico has invested heavily in nursing education in recent years. From 2004-09, the state appropriated $16 million to New Mexico colleges and universities to expand nursing programs and an additional $1 million to enhance salaries for nursing faculty members, the report said. The state this year appropriated about $3 million for nursing program expansion, said Len Malry, director of work force development at the Higher Education Department.
        The 32 nursing students now enrolled at CNM's Rio Rancho campus are expected to form the nucleus of a planned nursing program at the University of New Mexico's West Side campus, located just a few hundred yards from the CNM campus.
        The Rio Rancho students who complete their associate's degree in nursing at CNM can continue work on a bachelor's degree at UNM, said Debra Brady, a UNM nursing professor.
        "We have put together a plan where they can immediately enter the UNM bachelor's degree program that will be provided on the West Side," she said.
        UNM's College of Nursing admits 96 new students a year into its bachelor's degree program, Smith said. That number has not increased in recent years, she said.
       





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